PAOLO Di Canio says he needs to restore the “fire” of Sunderland’s players for the pivotal Premier League finale.
Di Canio only formally began his reign as Sunderland’s new head coach yesterday, but the Italian has already identified the lack of fight in the Black Cats’ ranks after watching recent games.
And the 44-year-old, unveiled in front of the media today, insists he needs to immediately restore Sunderland’s battling qualities, with just a point separating the Black Cats from the drop zone, heading into the final seven games of the season.
Di Canio said: “Watching some games in the last few weeks, I didn’t see the real fire in some individuals.
“I’m sure there is fire because they’re a good group of lads; a mix of experienced and younger players.
“If they have the right motivation, they can beat any side in this league and have done it in the past.
“But at the moment, they’re in difficulty and I expect the maximum desire to do the job because we don’t have a long period in front of us.
“We only have seven games and they have to be quick to understand us.
“If necessary, it’s crucial to make more sacrifices because it’s a crucial time not for the players, Paolo Di Canio or his staff, but for the thousands and thousands of people who care about this club.”
Di Canio held a team meeting with his players at the Academy of Light yesterday lunchtime before taking charge of his first training session.
The training field will play a pivotal role in Di Canio’s blueprint to stave off the threat of the drop, with the former Swindon boss renowned for being a hard task-master.
And although he fell short of criticising predecessor Martin O’Neill, Di Canio says there is something wrong in Sunderland’s ranks for them to be involved in the relegation scrap.
“Obviously I have my plan during the week. Probably with me, the players will have less time free,” he said.
“But I’ve always said to my players previously, that they don’t have to love me, they have to follow me and it’s enough to get success.
“This club is one point away from the relegation zone so something is strange because in this team there is quality.
“Something has gone wrong in the past. I don’t want to judge anyone, but we have to work more for sure.
“And especially at this stage of the season, we have to feel more responsibility. I feel this already, even though I’ve just arrived.
“I want to persuade the players to feel the same because we have a big privilege to do the job we love.”
The former Sheffield Wednesday striker understands that Sunderland’s squad will still be in shock at Saturday night’s dismissal of O’Neill and will inevitably be fretting over their status at the club.
But Di Canio hopes there can be a bounce-effect from his appointment, as Sunderland look to end an eight-game winless streak at fourth placed Chelsea on Sunday.
“It’s a shock. It’s happened to me in the past when I played football 2,000 years ago!” added the former West Ham, Sheffield Wednesday, Celtic and Lazio star.
“Obviously you want to understand the new manager’s philosophy.
“For the players who haven’t been involved in the last few weeks, they want to see whether they’ve got a chance.
“For the players who are already playing regularly, they want to keep going and maybe save their place.
“That should be normal and natural.
“I hope that can be an extra motivation.”