PAOLO DI CANIO says he will field the fittest side in Sunderland’s history next season after getting time to put his players through their paces.
Despite taking charge with just seven games of the campaign remaining, Di Canio identified Sunderland’s conditioning as a key flaw which needed to be addressed.
Sunderland’s midweek day off was cancelled and the players were subjected to double or even three times the workload from the Martin O’Neill regime.
That will continue in pre-season, with Di Canio planning double training sessions throughout the six weeks of preparations for the new campaign.
And after seeing the benefits from the early days of his reign, Di Canio predicts Sunderland’s superior fitness will be even more noticeable next term.
He told the Football Echo: “My regret is that I only had seven weeks, but it’s not an issue because we were OK (in the relegation battle).
“But for the future, you will see the fittest Sunderland team that has ever been. That has to be the base for a footballer.
“In the first two weeks, they felt a bit heavy, but then you could see the difference.
“Imagine the change after one year.”
Di Canio uses the examples of the Stadium of Light draws against Norwich and Stoke as evidence of the benefits of his fitness programme.
In O’Neill’s penultimate game in charge, Sunderland were unable to break down 10-man Norwich during a desperately lethargic second-half display.
But seven weeks later, Sunderland fought back with 10 men to claim a point against the Potters. Di Canio added: “They (the players) should realise that two months ago in the same situation, what would they have done?
“I watched the Norwich game when it was the opposite, with 10 versus 11, and they didn’t have one shot on target. The best chance came to (Grant) Holt at the end of the game when he was one versus one with (Simon) Mignolet.
“Sunderland only had the penalty. Norwich were on top and were the better side.
“But then we played against the most physical and tallest side in the league (Stoke) and we were on top in the second half with better possession – 54 per cent vs 46.
“We were running forward and running back after only four weeks (of Di Canio’s reign).”
See today’s Football Echo for more of our Sunderland season review.