PAOLO DI CANIO has revealed it was his decision to keep Ji Dong-won at the Stadium of Light.
But the Sunderland head coach is confident that he will be vindicated, despite Ji’s struggles in the Capital One Cup in midweek.
Sunderland received an offer of around £4million from a Bundesliga club for Ji during the summer after the South Korean’s impressive loan spell at German side Augsburg last season.
Despite Ji boasting less than 12 months on his Sunderland contract though, the Black Cats opted to reject the bid.
Ji has subsequently been involved in each of Sunderland’s opening three games, yet was hauled off after just 49 minutes of Tuesday’s cup tie against MK Dons.
But Di Canio remains convinced that Ji will play his part for Sunderland this season and says he was the one who wanted to keep the 22-year-old on Wearside, despite the interest from the Continent.
Di Canio told the Echo: “It (the rejected bid) came from me. I was responsible and it should be that way because I’m the manager.
“I can argue with my club in different situations and if I say ‘yes’, it means they have accepted it is my responsibility.
“I think he can be crucial for us, especially in a few weeks when the season starts to go forward.
“Opponents can become tired and he is a player who can exploit space and kill his opponents one v one.
“He did that straightaway at Southampton with the movement from Adam Johnson’s ball.
“He attacked between the two centre-halves and was in front of the goal against one of the best sides in terms of defensive organisation.
“MK Dons was a bad game (for him) it can happen, but he has a manager who tries to help his players, even if I’m strict and tough.
“He might not score 20 goals, but in a team that needs five strikers with different options and congested fixtures over Christmas, he can be crucial.”
Di Canio believes Ji must help himself on the training ground if he is to make the grade in the Premier League.
And the Italian says that includes being mentally strong, even if there is speculation over his future.
Di Canio added: “You never know what can happen with the brain. He’s human, like what happened a few weeks ago with Sess (Stephane Sessegnon) - ‘will I go, will I not go?’.
“But I’m going to make sure he trains hard like he has done because he’s going to be important.
“I know what the fans think and if I was a fan I would probably think the same.
“But at this moment, we need everybody.
“The player needs to help himself in this situation and I’ve told him that already.
“He needs to push himself and play simple football.
“He can’t lose three or four five easy balls without pressure, which is not acceptable.”