PAOLO DI CANIO outlined the modus operandi of his managerial philosophy when paraded in front of the press at the Academy of Light yesterday.
In keeping with the reputation earned at League One Swindon Town for being a training ground taskmaster, Di Canio emphasised the importance of hard work in preparation for stepping over the white line.
Chris Young reports on the Italian’s blueprint for what lies ahead for Sunderland’s players on the windswept pitches of the Academy of Light.
SURPRISINGLY, given the media storm which has enveloped Wearside since the F word was thrust into public parlance, Paolo Di Canio’s toughest question at his grand unveiling had no political connotations.
The Italian was clearly prepared for the more inevitable line of questioning which came his way, despite Sunderland’s resolve that only footballing matters would be discussed.
But it was an innocent question which Di Canio stumbled over.
Martin O’Neill’s successor was asked whether there was a lack of discipline in the squad?
“I don’t know... hmmmmmmmmm... I don’t know...” replied Di Canio gradually while trying (and failing) to stifle a grin.
Di Canio wasn’t being derogatory towards O’Neill or implying that Sunderland’s players were running riot under his predecessor.
But there was clearly an inference that there won’t be any lax elements to Sunderland’s training regime while Di Canio is at the helm.
Days off will disappear. Double sessions will be far more of a regular occurrence.
It was a system which paid dividends for the 44-year-old at Swindon Town after the superior fitness of his players saw a meandering club go from the bottom tier to the top of League One.
And Di Canio believes that once Swindon’s players overcame their initial reservations, they relished a more rigid structure on the training field.
“The important things for me are discipline, dedication and working so hard on the field during the week,” he said. “Otherwise the product that you can deliver in the Saturday game is not good.
“That’s not just a Paolo Di Canio opinion. All the managers around the world that deliver success do that.
“It is obvious we are going to change the way we approach the training situation.
“The top part is the game, but if you don’t prepare yourself the best way in a training session, then you can’t do it on a Saturday.
“The players will notice a difference.
“(At Swindon) we used to work really hard during the week. Sometimes not Wednesday or Sunday off. Before they had three days off a week and it was a shock for them.
“But once they got results, they were overjoyed.
“One year ago, I had a footballer at Swindon who was the best professional that I ever met in my life.
“He told me one day that if I told them to run four hours in a row, they would do it.
“If I gave them six days off, they would take it.
“They needed someone to help them and tell them.”
Di Canio believes that a structured approach is even more vital now than during his own formative playing days.
The money which has flooded the game over the last decade has created a generation of footballers beset by a reputation of fast cars and fast spending.
And with that background, Di Canio sees no issue with being a drillmaster.
“The new generation are not bad guys, but they are young,” said the former West Ham and Sheffield Wednesday forward.
“They are full of technology, they go around the town and if you don’t make them concentrate in a training session, then you don’t help them to be focused.
“The training session is an important moment because you improve and learn how to play with your team-mates.
“It’s difficult to work as a team, because everyone is an individual.
“If there is no discipline during the week, then there is anarchy among the players.
“They will try to do the right things, because it doesn’t work in the way it should.
“I have to be clear, I don’t know what has happened here.
“But with the players we have got, I can’t imagine we are one point above the relegation zone.”
The prospect of Di Canio embarking upon a dramatic increase in Sunderland’s training session is one which has immediately panicked the club’s medical department with such a large percentage of the first-team squad sidelined.
But the new head coach has been pleased with the early response from his players after holding an animated first team meeting on Monday lunchtime.
“Monday was the first chance we had to do anything with them,” he said.
“We had a chat with them for 20 minutes and then went out on the field and the first session was very, very good.
“There was some fantastic commitment so I’m very happy.”
One concern which has been widely levelled against Di Canio since his appointment, has been his lack of experience in managing Premier League players.
Although Di Canio didn’t express a single doubt over his ability to thrive in the top flight, he experienced notable bust-ups with his several of his Swindon squad.
He came to blows with striker Leon Clarke, substituted goalkeeper Wes Foderingham after just 21 minutes of a League Cup game at Southampton and stripped defender Paul Caddis of the captaincy.
That was with lower league players.
It’s a generalisation, but with the far loftier self-belief of their Premier League cousins, there is a potential powder keg buried under the dug-out.
But Di Canio insists he has the man-management skills to deal with different personalities on an individual basis.
And after passing his UEFA A coaching licence with record marks, Di Canio clearly does have method beyond his volatile reputation.
He added: “It is different dealing with a player who has played 400 times for Man United to one who is still young.
“It’s not specific.
“I have my ways, but what was important in League One was successful and worked, but obviously not every environment is the same.
“I think it is obvious that this a different environment and being an intelligent manager and the person I am, I have to read my players.
“You have to know which player is in front of you.
“It is different dealing with a player who has played 400 times for Man United to one who is still young.
“Who knows? Maybe I will be the most relaxed manager in the world or maybe I need to kick some bottom!”