Sunderland: No disguising need for summer surgery

Paolo Di Canio faces a busy time boosting numbers in the summer transfer market.
Paolo Di Canio faces a busy time boosting numbers in the summer transfer market.
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PAOLO DI CANIO is already proving himself a short-term success at Sunderland after breathing fresh life into a survival bid which looks increasingly optimistic.

But if Di Canio is to preside over long-term joy at the Stadium of Light, then he will need a helping hand in the summer’s transfer market.

The Football Echo’s CHRIS YOUNG argues that Di Canio’s impressive start shouldn’t disguise the surgery required on Wearside at the end of the campaign.

PAOLO DI CANIO has thankfully made no attempt to utilise the cloud of managerial cliché which becomes so tiresome.

From his condemnation of Sunderland’s fitness, to his amazement at the lack of striking options at his disposal, Di Canio has avoided insulting supporters’ intelligence by treading lightly around predecessor Martin O’Neill.

Similarly, after securing victory on his Stadium of Light bow last weekend, Di Canio’s message was unequivocal.

As the strains of Verdi’s Rigoletto faded during euphoric post-match scenes, Di Canio singled out Ellis Short in the directors’ box and pointed at the Sunderland owner before embarking down the tunnel.

Di Canio clearly feels a sense of gratitude towards Short for granting him the opportunity to manage in the Premier League and gambling on a character whose experience in the dug-out was limited to Leagues One and Two.

Short is being instantly rewarded for his faith too, the American rightly earning plenty of back-sleeping during his tour of Sunderland night-spots last Saturday for a managerial change which increasingly appears a masterstroke.

But Di Canio’s almost miraculous transformation of Sunderland’s players shouldn’t mask the help the head coach will require from Short in the summer.

Di Canio will have given scant consideration to incomings yet.

Sunderland may already be a name bandied around the transfer merry-go-round – Heerenveen’s Alfred Finnbogason the latest to be linked with the Black Cats after chief scout Pop Robson watched the striker in action last weekend.

But Di Canio’s focus has centred on Sunderland’s survival, nothing more. It would be pre-emptive of him to do anything else.

Yet if and when Sunderland begin to get their nose above the 40-point mark – a feat which looks increasingly likely after back-to-back victories – attention must turn to the significant surgery required for this squad.

Short is keen to subject Sunderland’s transfer activity to greater scrutiny after handing Roy Keane, Steve Bruce and Martin O’Neill millions to utilise, only for the Black Cats to remain enmeshed in basement worries.

That could still prompt Short to appoint a director of football as an interim between boardroom and dug-out, particularly as Di Canio is clearly an astute operator on the training field.

But O’Neill’s requirements for perhaps half-a-dozen fresh faces in the summer still holds true for Di Canio. Two wins don’t change that.

On a purely performance level, there has to be a reservation that these players are simply enjoying the bounce effect of a new manager, rather than permanently turning the corner.

Di Canio has undoubtedly brought far more organisation to Sunderland’s line-up and ironed out several of the clear flaws under O’Neill, such as defending too deep and leaving the front two isolated.

It would be a major surprise if Sunderland slipped completely into bad old habits, even when the purple patch expires.

But neither should it be overlooked that the Wearsiders appeared to have entered a brave new world when O’Neill first took charge.

For the first four months under the former Aston Villa boss, Sunderland players were scoring from impossible angles, bursting a gut to pressurise the opposition and throwing bodies on the line for the cause.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

It was only after March’s FA Cup quarter-final elimination at the hands of Everton that the stale air of lethargy crept over the side and refused to ever completely disappear.

But, even if the early days of Di Canio’s reign are no false dawn, Sunderland still require multiple new recruits from a purely numerical stance.

The sight of Liam Marrs, Jordan Laidler and Mikael Mandron on the bench last weekend said everything about the meagre nature of Sunderland’s squad.

Although the 6ft 3in Mandron has a bright future at just 18, the trio have not caused pulses to race for the Under-21s this season.

Marrs and Laidler are solid performers, while Mandron is full of energy and persistence, but they don’t immediately catch the eye like a Jordan Henderson or Jack Colback.

Realistically, Di Canio had just 13 outfield players to choose from against Everton, four of whom were centre-halves.

There weren’t a coach-load in the stands either; Craig Gardner missing the game through suspension and six absent through injury, including Wes Brown who hasn’t kicked a ball all season and may never do again.

The situation is only going to get worse after May 19 too.

Titus Bramble and Matt Kilgallon remain almost certain to leave the club on free transfers – despite a new man at the helm – while Kader Mangane and Danny Rose’s loan spells will expire.

Even if Sunderland intend to sign Rose permanently from Tottenham, it’s still a sizeable fee that needs to be shelled out.

The goalkeeping department could also be depleted, either with Simon Mignolet departing for a sizeable fee or, as seems more likely, Keiren Westwood moving to pastures new to secure the first-team football which would boost his Republic of Ireland international credentials.

Theoretically, Di Canio could restore Ahmed Elmohamady and Ji Dong-won to the fold after the pair’s loan deals expire at Hull and Augsburg respectively.

But there are clauses in both loans to make them permanent and Sunderland are unlikely to scupper a parting of ways.

When Sunderland’s squad re-convene at the start of pre-season, the bones will be looking distinctly bare. Even if Di Canio doesn’t particularly fancy one of the players he has inherited, there is precious little opportunity to offload them and leave his options even more reduced.

The club cannot afford to recruit a meagre two or three summer signings. At least double that is needed.

Three defenders, a midfielder, a winger, possibly a back-up keeper and potentially another striker – if Di Canio is to fulfil his objective of a five-strong attacking arsenal – all have to be on the shopping list.

The saving grace for Short’s bank balance is that Sunderland will have a £70million TV windfall to play with if they stay up.

Long-term, that extra finance is earmarked to bring the club’s accounts out of the red.

But the most pressing immediate concern is to ensure Di Canio has a reasonable quota of players to choose from.

After the start he has made, he surely deserves that extra leeway.

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