Sunderland director of football Roberto De Fanti is facing growing pressure to justify his role after former Black Cats boss Paolo Di Canio questioned his credentials and said that all of the club’s summer signings were down to the former agent.
De Fanti has been given a wide-ranging and influential role at the Stadium of Light but the club’s predicament – and the failure of most of the 14 signings made on his watch to make an impression on the first team – has brought sharp scrutiny of the Italian.
There were clearly tensions over recruitment during the close season with Di Canio, who said that he wanted an 80% British squad, effectively publicly washing his hands of the summer transfer business.
And The Journal understands that Gus Poyet has expressed reservations about De Fanti’s role ahead of the January transfer window. The Uruguayan started the Manchester City game with five of the 14 signings made over the summer but a number could be allowed to leave in January, with Emanuele Giaccherini and midfielder Cabral both attracting interest. Poyet is deciding this week whether to allow them to leave.
De Fanti has been a largely anonymous figure at the Stadium of Light but Sunderland cleared the decks of their scouting team before he was confirmed as the club’s director of football – a move that allowed him and Valentino Angeloni unprecedented freedom to bring in the players they wanted.
It was always acknowledged that Di Canio’s role was not central to recruitment but the fact that he was – he claims – completely sidelined throws up fresh questions about De Fanti, who has preferred to work with Italian scouts and spotters best known to him.
Di Canio spoke publicly for the first time since his departure yesterday, responding to Martin O’Neill’s criticism while also defending his own reputation. He claimed he had been “too good” to succeed at Sunderland and said that he would wait for another job in England. None of that is particularly relevant to a club that have moved on from Di Canio’s short, chaotic and unsuccessful reign but his criticism of the club’s controversial recruitment team raises further questions about Sunderland’s direction.
Di Canio said: “I wanted 80 per cent of the squad to be formed of British players. I don’t know why more didn’t come, you would have to ask Roberto De Fanti and Valentino Angeloni.
“They were allowed, with the full support of the chairman, to make the market. I gave them my opinion, I gave them names, but not one came and I don’t know why. The players that did come, I accepted, but obviously they weren’t my first choices or my option.”
Di Canio’s intervention comes at a time when Poyet is starting to rebuild relationships at the club, and the new manager has been careful not to criticise his predecessor.
That is not a concern that seems to be on Di Canio’s mind, with the Italian firing back after O’Neill branded him a “charlatan” after being presented as the Republic of Ireland boss. “I don’t know if he knows the meaning of this word charlatan. Probably I can teach him, even if I am not English,” he said.
“I respect the opinion of manager Martin O’Neill but the fact that he spoke after six months, not straight away, that proves what kind of level he is. He is not very big.
“A charlatan is a manager who spends £40m to be a top 10 club and then sees the club sink into the relegation zone.”