Paolo Di Canio wants an English player to fill Sunderland's midfield void

Paolo Di Canio has insisted that he will only sign an English player to fill the creative midfield void that he believes is hampering Sunderland's pre-season preparations

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

Paolo Di Canio has insisted that he will only sign an English player to fill the creative midfield void that he believes is hampering Sunderland’s pre-season preparations.

In another extraordinary post-match debrief in Herning he said Sunderland are “too slow” in midfield, but made it clear that he would not be adding to the Black Cats’ foreign legion to solve the problem.

He will only buy English, with Tottenham’s Tom Huddlestone looking a likely contender for the vacancy that Di Canio is desperate to fill.

The Italian cut an angry and frustrated figure as he carpeted his players for their attitude despite his new-look side running out 1-0 winners in their final friendly of the pre-season campaign against Danish Superliga side FC Midtjylland.

It was another extraordinary example of the sky-high standards he has set for his players as he warned them to shape up or face the consequences.

More revealing still was when he laid bare his transfer requirements before the start of the season – pinpointing a creative midfielder as his top priority and insisting that he must be English and have physical presence.

He also spoke of signing full-back cover for Jack Colback and Craig Gardner and revealed that Sunderland were chasing another winger.

“I can’t say if we are close (to signings), but I think it is obvious that we need a few players. The key one is in the middle of the field because in there we have problems with numbers. We only have two plus El-Hadji, who is a player who should not be with us – he should be with the Academy.

“But we don’t have the numbers. I have said since early pre-season that in there we need an English player who is physical, strong and a good quality footballer. The heart of the game is in the middle of the field and at the moment, we are missing there. We have good quality in (Sebastian) Larsson and Cabral, but we need more physical presence and more personality.

“The tempo of the game must be improved in the next few days because the way we play we have to be quick in the middle. At the moment we are too slow.

“We have good players but we need more. We need two full-backs who can play or maybe cover when Jack is not available or Craig is not. If it’s possible also (I would like) another winger.”

Sunderland’s performance in Denmark seemed to tick plenty of boxes, with the Black Cats notching a second win from three tune-ups thanks to Adam Johnson’s wonderful first-half strike.

The game meandered to a conclusion in the second half – Jack Colback avoiding a red card after referee Mads-Kristoffer Kristoffersen allowed him to be substituted after intially sending him off – but Di Canio was fuming afterwards. He had read the riot act to his players and warned them they had to step up or face the consequences.

“I’m not happy. I didn’t see the performance I wanted to see,” he said.

“We have ten days to go and it is the last real game before the start of the season – I’m not happy because it was an important game for me. Every game is important, but I would have preferred to lose the game and see a better attitude.

“So I didn’t enjoy it, but I know that when you are engaged in a process of building something you can have one step forward and two back – or two forward and three back.

“I expected a bit more. I didn’t enjoy watching my players play – not all of them but a few of them.”


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