Paolo Di Canio interview: My team will be licensed to thrill

Paolo Di Canio is in confident mood ahead of the new season, as chief sports writer Mark Douglas reports

Sunderland head coach Paolo Di Canio
Sunderland head coach Paolo Di Canio

Paolo Di Canio fixed the members of the North East football press corps with a steely stare and said something remarkable.

“We will play good football this season. You will enjoy it more,” he said, a broad grin creeping over his face. “Trust me.”

As much as Di Canio talks about his “revolution” – and he warmed to the theme impressively on the eve of his new-look team’s great unveiling – Sunderland’s extraordinary summer has also been just as much about trust and belief.

Di Canio provides the latter, his frenzied, funny and fascinating hour-long press conference yesterday oozing certainty and confidence in his own methods. But it has fallen to Ellis Short, who has plunged nearly £30million into a summer of transformation, to provide the former.

With Di Canio leading from the front and Roberto De Fanti working in the shadows on a slew of transfers, Short has sometimes felt like the forgotten man of this “revolution”. Not to his manager, who has returned to the owner this week to ask him for “one more sacrifice”.

“He has been very good, I have to mention that. His backing has been very important,” he said.

“He has said ‘stay there, make a revolution and trust the people. Send Mignolet out and spend the money for (Emanuele) Giaccherini’. It wasn’t easy, but I’ve told him ‘please make another sacrifice’.

“Someone will join us but I don’t know exactly who. That’s because I don’t know - there are a group of players I want, but I can’t choose four because otherwise the chairman will kill me!”

Even risking the wrath of Short won’t dissuade Di Canio that he needs a link-man – someone with the “keys” to open up a game.

Tom Huddlestone hasn’t been keen to do it, but the manager wants an Englishman to do it. Saturday will come too soon for his transfer team, but he is certain someone will arrive before September 2.

“We are searching for a real playmaker,” he said.

“Jack Colback can play in the middle but in a different way. One day he can be adapted. Even Craig Gardner can play there, but again in a different way. One day he will probably play there because we will be struggling for numbers in the middle. And maybe one day when we need more intensity and more aggression.

“But in the way that I want to play I would like to have two playmakers.

“Before Giaccherini’s arrival I asked them for a different player in the middle with a lot of energy and aggression. But Giaccherini’s arrival gave me a chance to change things because he is fantastic in the way he can run midfield.

“I need a real playmaker that can bring tempo, quality and personality as well as physical presence. Before the weekend is not easy to make a signing but it is important to understand we need something there.

“If we move Colback into the middle we don’t have a natural left- back, but this is not an issue now, although in the longer run it could be a problem. The club agree with me on this so we are working on it.”

This was Di Canio at his bravura best - scolding, soaring and rising to any bait offered to him. Sunderland have done something spectacular this summer and, while many feel it is a huge gamble on the part of the Black Cats, Di Canio is absolutely certain it will work.

The trust extends to the supporters too, who will swell the Stadium of Light on Saturday. The buzz is back on Wearside – apparently more than 41,000 tickets have been sold for the Fulham game – and fans bored to tears by bromide football under Martin O’Neill are eager to get a sense of what Di Canio’s revolution will bring.

If his team are as nimble on their feet as their Italian manager was with Thursday’s fourth estate questions, they should be celebrating a win by quarter to five tomorrow. A query about new boy Ondrej Celustka – praised to the hilt by Di Canio – saying his manager was “crazy” drew a humorous response that was revealing in itself.

Mischievously, he said: “He said I was crazy? No, he said it is crazy that I’m here under Paolo Di Canio, the top manager in the world. That’s what he meant. Don’t try to turn the words!

“He doesn’t know me yet as a manager and anyway he knew I was a very good footballer and this can be an advantage. This is his opinion. Once he realises I am even better as a manager and he will go mad. But anyway, he is a good footballer and he is ready. He is intelligent and his attitude is amazing. He is always there with wide eyes and he receives advice.”

Celustka is one of the more low-key arrivals but Di Canio predicts he may be one of the best.

“He asks when something goes wrong. He speaks to Craig Gardner because at the moment we are practicing with him on the right. Craig is out for the first game for suspension.

“He speaks very good English having never been here. He is a versatile player who can play right or left and is a real athlete.

“He passes very well, he plays with personality and I like him a lot. He is at a good age. He is really young but has had a few seasons at the top level already.

“He has played a main part in the last two or three years and has played 40 games a season which proves he is a real athlete.”



David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer