Paolo Di Canio demands link man for Sunderland

The Black Cats boss has declared that Sunderland are “struggling” in midfield and need a playmaker who can become their “key” man this term

Sunderland AFC Manager Paolo Di Canio
Sunderland AFC Manager Paolo Di Canio

Paolo Di Canio says Sunderland’s final additions of the summer transfer window will be their most crucial – and insists the club cannot afford to just add “another number” to their midfield.

In a bullish call to director of football Roberto Di Fanti for further reinforcements, the Black Cats boss has declared that Sunderland are “struggling” in midfield and need a playmaker who can become their “key” man this term.

With Ellis Short’s blessing, Sunderland are poised for another splurge in the summer market with Di Canio looking to make four more close-season additions to take the number of new arrivals up to 13.

Having cast former skipper Lee Cattermole into the wilderness over the summer months, Di Canio has signalled his desire to completely revamp the engine room that has been Sunderland’s weakness for several seasons. Cattermole is now fully fit but was left at home when the team jetted out for their final warm-up in Denmark on Wednesday and getting him off the wage bill is now a key priority for Sunderland’s hierarchy.

The �40,000-a-week midfielder is a target for Fulham and Hull after Di Canio made it abundantly clear that he can follow James McClean out of the exit door. The Republic of Ireland winger, who infuriated Sunderland with his conduct on

Twitter as his form nose-dived last season, has joined Wigan on a three-year deal for an undisclosed fee.

Di Canio’s focus is on bringing in an English ball carrier with strength and presence and, while he has been credited with an interest in Tom Huddlestone, The Journal understands that former England international Scott Parker has also been mentioned in dispatches.

Either way, Di Canio is dodging questions about what his team is capable of until they make what he sees as the most crucial moves of a summer that has seen him completely transform the Black Cats’ squad. “Before I can answer questions about where we can finish, let me see if we can bring in the players,” he told The Journal.

“We now have a good group of strikers with different characteristics and I can now make changes. If we have five strikers, plus the young striker (Mikael Mandron) we have good competition for places and desire to prove themselves and take a place in the starting XI.

“That makes me very happy because last year we were struggling up front. Now we are struggling in the middle and full-backs area, so we need others.”

It is intriguing that Di Canio has singled out the midfield area as Sunderland’s weakness and he assesses the issue as being one of quality as much as numbers.

He has handed Seb Larsson and new arrival Cabral the holding berths during the team’s truncated pre-season programme and, while El-Hadji Ba’s early form has been a boon for Di Canio, he doesn’t want to count on the France Under-21 midfielder as a first team player just yet.

The Sunderland boss is adamant that the addition is absolutely critical to the Black Cats season.

He said: “We don’t need another adaptable player.

“We need a key player in the middle who can play with the characteristics that I ask for.

“I have to link the middle of the field with the back four and the three up front – the two wingers and the striker.

“We have to be clear that this player has a clear identity – we have to make sure it is this type of player who joins us. We could settle for less, but then we would have another number in the squad, but not a player we need.”

Meanwhile, Di Canio’s men have been drawn to host League One side Milton Keynes Dons in the second round of the Capital One Cup.

The Black Cats won 2-0 at MK Dons in last season’s third round.

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