PAOLO Di Canio admits he’s fretful of the fitness of Sunderland players away on international duty, particularly winger Emanuele Giaccherini.
The Black Cats’ head coach has made it his mission to get his players super-fit this summer, but some are further behind the others – like Steven Fletcher, for example, who only returned to first-team football last weekend, and £6.8million signing Giaccherini, who linked up with Sunderland later than the rest of the squad.
Di Canio, who described Fletcher as “no more than 40 per cent fit” after the Scot’s goalscoring return against Crystal Palace, is delighted that Scotland boss Gordon Strachan has seen sense and not called up the 26-year-old for tonight’s World Cup qualifier against Belgium.
It means that Sunderland can work constructively during the international break on improving the fitness of a striker whose form and fitness will prove pivotal to the outcome of the Wearsiders’ season.
But many of the current Sunderland squad are involved in internationals across Europe and the Italian says that he will be keen to see what condition they return in, especially Italy international Giaccherini, who he has described as little more than “65 per cent fit”.
Di Canio told the Echo: “The first thing you worry about, of course, is injuries – Fletcher himself has just returned from a long spell out with an injury he picked up on international duty.
“And so, as a coach, that is always something on your mind, but you are also a little concerned about players’ fitness too, because, often when players are away on international duty, they do not do a great amount of fitness work.
“That does not matter so much when it is later in the season and players are already very fit, but, at the start of the season, you can still be working on players.
“That, for us, includes Giaccherini.
“He is going to be a very important player for us and we need him to be fully fit, which he is not yet.
“He is improving all the time, but international duty might not be great for him because it is all about the matches themselves rather than the training side of things – if you do not play or do not start the matches – you can end up doing not much fitness work.
“In his case, I’m disappointed that we have not longer to work with him on our training ground.
“When he gets back we will examine his fitness levels, along with all the other players.
“You expect them to drop back a little, but hopefully not much because we need to get the very most out of our squad this season and fitness is a crucial part of it for us.”