AS A VETERAN of pre-season jaunts to the Far East, John O’Shea was a dab hand in the role of captain at the press conference launch of the Barclays Asia Trophy yesterday.
For those of a betting persuasion, it’s worth staking a quid or three on O’Shea leading Sunderland out against Fulham on August 17, even if Lee Cattermole fulfils the requirements of (a) getting fit and (b) convincing Paolo Di Canio of his worth.
Cattermole has taken great pride in skippering the club, but the body language and interaction between Di Canio and O’Shea was very much that of overlord and his first lieutenant.
One optimistic hack among the local press pack attempted to get Di Canio to declare his first-choice goalkeeper for next season.
Typically, Di Canio batted the question away, but with a trace of humour.
“Yes, I have decided already ... it is John, he is very tall and he can catch the ball well,” quipped Di Canio to spark boisterous laughter among the throngs of enthusiastic Hong Kong-based journo’s, who had just been forced to spend the dreariest 15 minutes listening to Vincent Kompany and Brian Kidd pontificating.
Later, O’Shea was echoing the thoughts of his manager on the importance of changing the mentality of the club.
Di Canio turned to him with a beaming grin before declaring: “I love this guy”.
For all Di Canio has been keen to revolutionise the side he inherited, the Italian has clearly realised the importance of getting his most seasoned head in the dressing room onside.
THESE opening press remarks came in the plush surroundings of the Grand Hyatt Hotel, where all three Premier League sides are staying.
Strolling around the marble-encrusted corridors was a sickener, especially when I thought the Echo’s accommodation budget had been wisely used on my digs – even if the free wi-fi place is limited to a four-foot square zone in the lobby.
It’s not a good place to spend my evenings.
But the Hyatt is a plush paradise, despite the rather too keen Hong Kong supporters operating as paparazzi outside the hotel’s front doors.
I’m not sure whether the pictured snapper (left) mistook me for far slimmer, far more athletic and far more talented lookalike Juan Mata, but he missed a trick.
The best photo opportunity came by the poolside where Premier League ambassador David Ginola waltzed around in a lurid lilac top and fluorescent peach trousers.
Worryingly, he almost pulled it off.
LITTLE of note could be gleaned from Sunderland’s open training session at the Hong Kong Stadium last night.
First, it’s roastingly humid here and secondly, Paolo Di Canio was not going to divulge his grand blueprint while thousands watched on.
Yes, Jozy Altidore looks like a bull of a centre-forward, while Emanuele Giaccherini is going to be a shrewd operator capable of finding space and picking a pass, but initial impressions are too often misleading at this stage of the campaign.
What was refreshing to see was players of all clubs actually interacting with supporters.
Danny Rose produced a wide grin and a chuckle as some of the Sunderland faithful chanted his name after Spurs finished training, while Jack Colback enjoyed being reminded of the “Paolohhh de Canioh” song.
Every player from all three Premier League sides out here also spent a good couple of minutes signing autographs after their allotted hour’s training were finished.
It’s a habit which shouldn’t just be reserved for meeting fans in faraway places.