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Di Canio targets 'good characters' as PFA enter dressing-room feud
PAOLO DI CANIO will attempt to change the mindset in the Sunderland dressing room this summer by signing players with a "professional ethic".
The Black Cats boss has been criticised by Professional Footballers' Association chief executive Gordon Taylor, who claims his attempts to improve the behaviour and discipline of his players has overstepped the mark.
A small number of Sunderland players are understood to have contacted the PFA to question the validity of some of the recent fines handed out by Di Canio, but their stance has merely hardened the Italian's resolve to drive through the changes he feels are required this summer.
Confident of the support of his chairman, Ellis Short, Di Canio is more determined than ever to stamp out the indiscipline he feels has been rife since he replaced Martin O'Neill.
The likes of Phil Bardsley, Matt Kilgallon and Titus Bramble will all leave the Stadium of Light this summer - the latter has been linked with a possible move to the United States - and Di Canio will attempt to bring in more than half-a-dozen new faces to transform the make-up of the dressing room.
A player's character will be every bit as important as their performance on the field, with Di Canio determined to change the mindset he has encountered from a number of players in recent weeks.
"When you talk about mentality, we have to make sure that when we bring in players, they are good professionals because they have to influence each other," said the Sunderland boss.
"The dressing room is their kingdom. I can put in the strict rules to help them to understand we have to behave in a different way, but we need to bring in six or seven players who know how to behave and have a professional ethic and then they can help each other. Otherwise, it's difficult.
"There is already a plan. The picture is clear before me. I am head coach and others have to handle the financial situation. But I have said we need this player, this quality, in this position. If they show me the player, we can go and I will tell them, 'Yes, this player is okay'."
Di Canio is particularly keen to strengthen his side's attacking resources after the Black Cats finished the season with just 41 goals from 38 games.
The return of Steven Fletcher will help, but Di Canio is still to decide whether Connor Wickham has a future in his first-team plans.
The Sunderland boss has already had a number of disputes with Wickham, who is understood to have been on the wrong end of a particularly strong verbal volley in the wake of this month's 1-1 draw with Southampton.
Wickham produced a relatively lacklustre display after being introduced as a second-half substitute, and sources claim Di Canio was quick to criticise his performance in the dressing room after the game.
The Italian publicly criticised the England under-21 international again during his pre-match press conference ahead of the Tottenham match, saying he would "maybe have to slap" the striker to motivate him, and spent much of Sunday's game berating Wickham's performance from the touchline at White Hart Lane.
It seems unlikely that Wickham will be one of Sunderland's first-choice strikers next season, and Di Canio must now decide whether to attempt to sell a player who cost £8m when he moved from Ipswich Town under Steve Bruce.
Whatever happens, he will be looking to sign at least one experienced centre-forward this summer, with Burnley's Charlie Austin one of the first forwards to be linked with a possible move to the Stadium of Light.
"We need to bring in quality, particularly up front, because to win games you need to score," said Di Canio. "We don't score many goals."
Di Canio was critical of the PFA during his post-match tirade on Sunday, but the players' union has hit back by challenging his disciplinarian approach.
Taylor has confirmed that at least one of his members has asked him to look into Di Canio's actions and comments, and criticised the Sunderland boss' decision to take on his players in public.
"We know Paolo as a player and a manager, and he is a bit volatile," said the PFA chief. "But he knows, from when he was a player with the PFA, what we are about. We represented him then, the same as we also represent the players (now).
"One point he made was about Sunderland being able to do what they want - well they can't. There is a disciplinary procedure that is agreed.
"We obviously agree with discipline, but that has to be in line with the Football Association and the Premier League. From that point of view, there is a due process.
"It is not going to help matters blasting players in public, but that is what he has done, so we will deal with it. It is not always conducive to good player-management relations.
"He is his own man, but they have to abide by laid-down procedures and Sunderland, being a member of the Premier League, know that as well as anybody.
"We don't want to get into confrontation, but we have a job to do and we need the players to know that."
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