Chris Young: Calibre of signings holds key for Sunderland

Paolo Di Canio.
Paolo Di Canio.
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ABUBBLING Vesuvius caricature has been created of Paolo Di Canio in the pre-season prediction supplements.

There is more than an element of truth in depicting Di Canio as a temperamental figure.

In just seven games last season, the Italian demonstrated that it is “my way or the highway” when it comes to his disciplinary policies.

And like Roy Keane before him, Di Canio is overseeing an autonomous reign in the corridors of the Academy of Light.

But it does not necessarily correspond that Di Canio’s character will equate to a season of peril for Sunderland.

Yes, Di Canio’s Sunderland reign may ultimately reach a conclusion when the dynamite keg explodes.

Yet it is simplistic and slightly ignorant to suggest that Di Canio will lose his rag at one point during the campaign, alienate the dressing room and subsequently send Sunderland on a spiralling course towards the Championship.

Speaking to Sunderland’s players during the summer, their genuine enthusiasm for Di Canio’s methods and pre-season preparation has shone through.

This squad is far fitter and far more organised than was ever the case under Martin O’Neill, while they are keen to put into practice Di Canio’s blueprint for a more attractive style of play.

If Sunderland are to become embroiled in another relegation battle this season, Di Canio’s work on the training ground won’t be to blame.

There remain justifiable question marks over Di Canio’s man-management.

But the difficulty in predicting whether Sunderland can reach the sanctity of mid-table, rather than the doldrums of the bottom three, stems from the nature of their summer recruits.

Only two of the nine players added to the first-team squad have played Premier League football before and neither Vito Mannone nor Jozy Altidore stole any headlines in their previous incarnations.

The success of the likes of Altidore, Emanuele Giaccherini and Cabral in Europe – plus the pre-season indications – suggests they could prove to be cute captures.

But Sunderland supporters are stepping into the unknown.

For all the YouTube clips, positive noises from their team-mates or Twitter remarks from overseas, an imposing question marks hangs over Sunderland’s signings.

They could thrive.

But, equally, they could drown in the deep end.

Only by the Autumn will anyone know.

While that state of uncertainty exists, it would be naive for Sunderland to set any objectives above Premier League survival.

As the club enters its seventh successive season in the top flight, that is a sad state of affairs, but a measure of the backward step taken at the Stadium of Light last season.

Until Sunderland reach a point in the campaign where they can produce some consistent quality, then the top 10 goal, which has prevailed during the last three summers, must be put on the back-burner.

The relegation scrap promises to be just as concertinaed as last season too.

Of the three newly-promoted sides, only Crystal Palace have an ominous air surrounding them.

Cardiff have spent big in landing Andreas Cornelius, Gary Medel and the impressive Steven Caulker, while Steve Bruce has recruited heavily at Hull – notably with Tom Huddlestone – and knows the formula needed for survival.

Palace cannot boast the finances of their fellow new boys and losing the services of their best players, Wilfried Zaha and Glenn Murray, is a daunting obstacle for Ian Holloway to overcome.

Signing Arsenal flop and ex-Sunderland target Marouane Chamakh as a replacement for long-term injury victim Murray has more than air of desperation around it.

Holloway’s side may begin the campaign like his former employers Blackpool in 2010/11, yet look how that ended.

There will be at least half-a-dozen of the “established” Premier League sides joining the new boys in the dogfight though – potentially Sunderland and potentially Newcastle.

Several pundits have tipped Stoke City to be involved in the mix and it’s easy to see why.

Last season, they only got out of jail by preying on QPR’s frailty.

With Mark Hughes surely ready to tinker with the club’s tried and tested game-plan too, plus a modest summer of recruitment, Stoke – rather like Sunderland – are an obvious pick when it comes to drop candidates.

As an outside bet though, it’s worth keeping an eye on West Brom.

Despite their stunning form in the opening half of the season, Baggies fans began to get twitchy over Steve Clarke as the nights drew out.

Clarke’s men have registered just 16 points in 2013 – compared to Sunderland’s 17 – and have lost the services of the hugely talented Romelu Lukaku.

The Baggies could, of course, banish these doubts and begin the campaign as they did the last one.

But, likewise, Sunderland could equally buck expectations and see their superior fitness reap rewards over the opening weeks.

Whether they can maintain that though will depend on the calibre of their new recruits, not Di Canio.

Cattermole left in limbo

CAUTION, rather than a dire diagnosis, was the reason behind Lee Cattermole lasting just 45 minutes of the Under-21s’ encounter on Monday.

But, on the evidence of that first half, it was apparent how desperately short of match fitness Cattermole is, understandably so given his injury troubles during 2013.

With just two-and-a-half weeks of the transfer window remaining, there has to be serious doubts now over whether anyone will take a chance on the midfielder before the deadline, especially given his Sunderland wage packet.

Sunderland have made little secret of their desire to remove the skipper from the books.

Yet Cattermole will rightly feel that he hasn’t been given a chance to prove himself under Paolo Di Canio and he demonstrated his commitment to the club by signing a new contract last October.

Should he still be at the Stadium of Light come September 3 though, it will be fascinating to see whether an olive branch will be forthcoming.