PAOLO Di Canio has confirmed Carlos Cuellar’s drop down the defensive pecking order at the Stadium of Light.
But he says the Spaniard – yet to feature for the Black Cats this season – is still in his plans.
The 32-year-old started six of Di Canio’s seven games in charge last season and was expected to be pushing for a first-team place again in the current campaign.
But he has not featured at all this term, with his involvement limited to that of an unused sub and he currently ranks as fourth-choice centre-half in the Sunderland head coach’s mind.
Yet Di Canio insisted: “Although I have not used him yet, Carlos still has a part to play.
“I have got five centre-backs, which gives me a lot of options and I choose the combinations for different reasons.
“We need a mixture.”
Skipper John O’Shea is Di Canio’s first-choice centre-back, but summer signings Modibo Diakite and Valentin Roberge have impressed the head coach.
And that was a fact confirmed last weekend when O’Shea was suspended and Diakite and Roberge were paired together for the first time, with Cuellar remaining on the bench.
And with Wes Brown on the bench last week and Di Canio saying O’Shea’s old Manchester United team-mate is in his thoughts when fully fit, Cuellar could find himself even further down the queue.
That would be a big change from his arrival at the Stadium of Light 14 months ago on a Bosman free transfer from Aston Villa.
A favourite of former manager Martin O’Neill, former Rangers defender Cuellar was a first-team regular under the Irishman but now looks like having to get used to being a bit-part player under the new regime.
“I want us to bring the ball out from the back and for that we need players who are comfortable passing with both feet, which Diakite and Roberge are, and that’s why I picked them ahead of Carlos against Arsenal.
“Diakite is a competitor, he is a good challenger.
“Roberge played well and, when he came out from the back, he passed the ball out of defence. He also has aggressivity.
“I prefer to play with these two, Diakite and Roberge, because they can communicate together better, because they both speak French.
“And I gave the captain’s armband to Diakite when O’Shea was missing because I can speak to him in Italian.
“But I have to say the season is long, and Carlos will get his chance.”