Steven Fletcher is likely to be out of action until September as he battles back from ankle surgery
Steven Fletcher is likely to be out of action until September as he battles back from ankle surgery.
And that means Sunderland are unlikely to let Connor Wickham leave before the start of the campaign – despite interest from QPR, Sheffield Wednesday and Ipswich.
Fletcher was not included in the Sunderland travelling party that trekked to Hong Kong for the Barclays Asia Trophy as he continues his rehabilitation from an ankle injury and initially feared that he may not be in contention until towards the end of September. There are now hopes that he will be back before then, but The Journal understands the Black Cats are likely to have to start the season without him, and that has knock-on effects for their striker options.
Di Canio confirmed in Hong Kong that he did not want to sign another striker and will start the season, with Jozy Altidore as the main target man. But with Ji Dong-Won likely to be sold, he intends to retain Wickham to give him options in the striking department.
It also means that Stephane Sessegnon, who was impressive in spells in Hong Kong, is more likely to stay at the Stadium of Light. The Black Cats will listen to offers for the Benin striker but there has been no more than tentative interest in him so far.
The Sunderland boss is keen to integrate Fletcher into his preferred system and has seen plenty about the former Wolves man that he likes. But the serious injury sustained on international duty has prevented Di Canio from working with the forward.
There has not been a setback in his comeback plans, but he was left out of Scotland’s squad to face England recently, which was an indication that he is still some way from being available for first-team action. Sunderland continue to re-mould their squad and yesterday allowed Alfred N’Diaye to leave on a season-long loan to Turkish top-flight side Eskisehirspor.
It is understood a fee has been agreed for the midfielder if the move works out, but either way, it appears N’Diaye’s short Sunderland career is over.
The club were linked with Portuguese midfielder Manuel Fernandes – who is in the final year of his contract with Besiktas – and are looking for more of a creative presence in the engine room.
N’Diaye struggled to make an impression after moving to Sunderland in January and, while he won admirers for his effort, Di Canio is looking to move the Black Cats up a level next year.
He already has Craig Gardner, Jack Colback and Cabral who can play in the holding midfielder role – while Lee Cattermole could also be deployed there if Di Canio reconsiders his stance on the former Middlesbrough man.
Gardner may also start the season at right-back unless Sunderland manage to sign one of the two full-backs he is looking to recruit.
“I just want to play as many games as I can this season, no matter what position it is,” he said.
“I would rather play anywhere than be on the bench. I am playing in pre-season. I have played four full games and I am enjoying it.
“It (pre-season) is tough, I admit it. But it is a good tough because training is hard. I am a firm believer that the attitude to training should be the same as it is in life generally.
“If you work hard in life you get a good life.
“That is what we are doing as far as training is concerned, so hopefully we will have a good season.”