New goalkeeper Vito Mannone has warned rival Keiren Westwood he has come to fight for a place in Sunderland’s first team.
Republic of Ireland international Westwood has had to wait two frustrating years to be the Black Cats’ first-choice goalkeeper – but Mannone joined from Arsenal this month with a brief to make that difficult for him.
The Italian was a bit-part player throughout his eight years in North London, but is not prepared to sit back and allow that to happen on Wearside.
“I’m a fighter and I want to fight,” he said. “If I don’t have the chance to fight, then it’s a bit of problem. I’m not a guy who likes to stand there and look at things from the outside. Anyone who knows me, knows I’m not a person who can be happy like that.
“As soon as the chance (to join Sunderland) came, I was always going to take it because it’s a great club and a great opportunity for me.
“I just want to get on the bike and start riding.”
Westwood carved out an impressive reputation and an international career when he joined Coventry City from Carlisle United.
He was considered by many to be the best goalkeeper in the Championship when he joined Sunderland on a Bosman free transfer two years ago.
Since then things have not gone to plan.
Westwood was signed to provide competition for Simon Mignolet, but the Belgian’s consistent form made it a non-contest, costing Westwood his newly-won status as Ireland’s first-choice goalkeeper last season.
Westwood has made only nine Premier League appearances, deputising when Mignolet suffered a fractured cheekbone. Despite some impressive performances in that run, Westwood’s illness caused Mignolet to rush back ahead of schedule on New Year’s Day 2012, and he has not played top-flight football since.
Such frustrations are familiar to Mannone, who made only 27 appearances for Arsenal since joining as a 17-year-old in 2005. He played a further 36 games on loan at Barnsley and Hull City.
Mannone is currently in Italy, where a pre-season training camp is giving Sunderland’s players an opportunity to better get to know their demanding coach Paolo Di Canio.
The Italian was in charge for the final seven games of last season but has since totally revamped his squad. He also appeared to change gear once his initial mission of saving the club from relegation was accomplished.
“I am trying to understand him and how he works,” said Mannone. “Even though he speaks my own language, you still need time to get to know someone.
“He clearly loves his job – you can definitely see that – and he’s really passionate. All of his staff really want to do well and every little detail is fulfilled.
“We all really want to do well, and every player in the squad knows that. We are trying to get ready by working hard in pre-season. We need to make a good group of players who want to help each other. Then we will try to have a good season.”
Mannone is one of eight players to have joined this summer, a number Sunderland are hoping to take into double figures with the arrivals of Emanuele Giaccherini and Gino Peruzzi this week.
Giaccherini is a ï¿½6.8m-rated attacking midfielder currently with Juventus, while 21-year-old Velez Sarsfield defender Peruzzi has been signed to replace outgoing right-back Phil Bardsley, but also played at left-back and on the right wing during the Argentinian season.
“It looks like a new era, the beginning of a new project,” said Mannone. “I’m really happy to be involved in this project now. There are quite a few new players in and we’ve all come in at once at the start of something.
“The lads who were already here are helping us quite a lot. I think we’ve already made great progress in terms of getting to know each other and starting to form a team.
“In another month, we will be the team the boss wants us to be.”