SUNDERLAND owner Ellis Short has embarked upon a dramatically different direction with the club this summer after adopting a European strategy to the coaching structure.
But as Chris Young discovers in Hong Kong, his predecessor as Sunderland chairman believes it might prove to be a ploy which proves effective for the Black Cats this season.
PLAN A at the Stadium of Light had perhaps ran its course.
When Niall Quinn’s magic carpet swept into Wearside seven years ago, his blueprint for rejuvenating Sunderland proved spectacularly successful.
Seeing Sunderland thrust into the limelight among the vast appetite for the Premier League in the Far East this week, has reinforced the progress made by the club since it was scrambling on its knees in the mid-2000s.
There were minor hiccups along the way – and plenty of financial aid to back the project – yet history will show Quinn’s time at the helm to have been an overwhelmingly profitable one.
But when Quinn parted ties with Sunderland following the appointment of Martin O’Neill, an air of stagnation seemed to have consumed proceedings at the Stadium of Light.
It took a radical change of course by Ellis Short to arrest the slump before an even more dramatic overhaul of Sunderland’s management structure this summer.
Short has edged his bets on the European model, with an all-Italian backroom staff, director of football and scouting network.
Quinn holds no grudges at Short deciding to rip up his original model and embark upon a plan rarely used in the Premier League.
And speaking with the former Sunderland chairman here in Hong Kong, Quinn is quietly confident that the Black Cats’ strategy with Paolo Di Canio in the dug-out may just prove to be effective next season.
Quinn told the Echo: “Paolo has brought his own people in, he’s moulding the team his way and the chairman has backed him, which is so important.
“He’s not hamstrung, he can go and develop the club the way he wants.
“It might just be what Sunderland need.
“I for one hope it goes really well.
“It’s totally different to when I was there. It’s a different model, a different platform.
“We had our turn when I was in charge, but now it’s a different model.
“When you try to change things so drastically, you can have hiccups along the way and I just hope people stick with them through them.
“But Ellis Short his giving him the moral support and chance to develop as a manager.
“Of course I have a personal interest in Sunderland doing well, but it’s going to be an interesting journey.
“I’m quite confident that Sunderland will have a decent year.”
The appointment of Valentin Angeloni from Inter Milan as Sunderland’s new chief scout has inevitably led the Black Cats to focus primarily on the European market this summer – predominantly Italy, with the captures of Modibo Diakite and Emanuele Giaccherini.
But Quinn says that Newcastle have proved what can be achieved by recruiting astutely from abroad after their fifth placed finish in 2011-12 with a raft of French signings.
“With the people who are around Paolo, they know the European market – they certainly know the Italian market,” said Quinn.
“They know where they can get players who will buy into what he wants to achieve.
“Under Pop Robson (former Sunderland chief scout) the likes of James McClean came along and one or two others just before that, with (Stephane) Sessegnon and Simon Mignolet.
“It was looking in a lot of places to find gems. That’s what our scouting model was.
“Now it seems more centered on the Italian model.
“But Newcastle have proved that if you get a model like that – when two years ago it really transformed the club – it can work.
“Paolo has his people constantly scouting young Italian players and it may just work for Sunderland. I hope it does.”
The strategy has already seen Sunderland sign eight first-team players this summer, with Di Canio hoping for another three arrivals before the end of the transfer window.
It’s been a dramatic overhaul, coupled by the departures of Titus Bramble, Matt Kilgallon and Danny Graham, plus potential exits for Phil Bardsley, Alfred N’Diaye and Lee Cattermole.
But Quinn believes the rebuilding was a necessary step, as some of the players Di Canio inherited would naturally have been wary of the Italian’s methods.
“He’s so determined to do things his way that he sees the necessity to bring in a whole new raft of players,” said Quinn.
“The change of style from the Martin O’Neill era to now is so, so different. So vast.
“Trying to take on Martin’s team and change it into what he wants would prove difficult. It’s such a sea change.
“Now he’s brought his own players in who won’t be familiar with Martin’s ways and will go straight into his ways.”
There is a warning note from Quinn though.
In his role as a TV pundit for Sky Sports, Quinn saw in Di Canio’s brief stint in charge of Sunderland last season how he was not afraid of publicly rebuking his players or demanding high standards from them.
The Irishman has no issue with Di Canio’s tough stance, but believes the Italian will need to follow a leaf out of Sir Alex Ferguson’s book by the striking the balance between discipline and discouragement.
“Paolo demands that fitness becomes a supreme option for the team and I can see that myself with the way the players are being driven by him,” added Quinn, at a Premier Skills training session coaching youngsters here in Hong Kong this week.
“It’s something that might just really work for Sunderland.
“If you can run that bit longer and that bit faster than the teams you are playing against before you start, then you’ve got an advantage.
“You can’t beat them with a stick all the time, there’s a balance there.
“But I’m sure he’ll get that right and deliver the credit the players deserve at times.
“The person you look at over the last 25 years is Sir Alex Ferguson.
“You never had to question his authority. He didn’t beat people with sticks.
“He did make examples of players in the early days and he got his platform right.
“He got respect from the media, fans and the players.
“Paolo is aiming to do that now and get the players to believe in what he’s doing.
“The owner obviously believes in him, which is a great start.
“I think there’ll be some incredible passion displayed from Paolo and I hope we’re talking about his ability to coach and getting his tactics right.
“Those are the things which will ultimately count.”