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Sunderland will not struggle vows Di Canio ahead of opener
PAOLO DI CANIO has hit back at the critics predicting his Wearside revolution is destined to fail by claiming Sunderland are guaranteed improved fortunes when the new Premier League season starts today.
After adding ten new players since the end of last season and an overall investment of around £30m in the squad, including signing on fees and wages, the Black Cats will have a fresh look about them when they open against Fulham at the Stadium of Light today.
The extent of the changes, which has also seen goalkeeper Simon Mignolet head a list of departures, in such a short space of time means it is difficult to assess how Sunderland might fare.
And while sections of supporters are excited by elements of the transformation, most notably the £6.8m capture of Emanuele Giaccherini from Juventus, there are also concerns that the extent of the adjustments could be too much too soon.
The bookmakers have got Sunderland ranked sixth favourites for relegation, with top-flight new-boys Crystal Palace, Hull City and Cardiff among those priced shorter.
But Di Canio thinks the alterations he has overseen at the Stadium of Light can lead to a brighter future knowing how the club has flirted with relegation ever since gaining promotion under Roy Keane in 2007.
"Some people say I will struggle, then I win the League!” joked Di Canio, smiling. “At first last year they didn't think we'd stay up because it was too much and Di Canio had no experience. Then we stayed up and they say it was only a short period now we have to wait until next year.
“Then if we finish top ten it's 'oh, he's spending money we'll have to wait until next year' Then it's 'oh, he's won the League!' When we win the World Cup with England it will be that it should happen after 60 years. It's typical.
"My point is that I'm sure we are not going to struggle. I'm sure. For many reasons. The quality, the tactical strategy we are going to bring, the identity, the protagonists, which are the players, the environment, the discipline will help absolutely. We will have six or seven points only for the discipline and the work ethic I'm sure it will reflect on the field.
"People can say and write what they want but a few days ago there was an article saying how can you play football if you only run, run and run. But they weren't there in pre-season.
“They didn't see what we did. We didn't make the players run all day without reason. We have a strategy, we have methodology. In the morning mainly fitness, partly tactical. In the afternoon tactical and technical.”
Sunderland's record in the Premier League since coming back up has hardly been impressive. Finishing 15th in Keane's first top-flight campaign was followed by placings 16th, 13th, tenth and 13th before last season's drop to 17th.
Such a poor record – even the year they finished tenth there was a lingering threat of relegation for much of the campaign - was why owner Ellis Short was keen to lead Sunderland in to a new era.
Di Canio has moved in to the manager's office and has been working closely with director of football Roberto De Fanti and chief scout Valentino Angeloni in the hope of completely changing the way the club is run.
As well as overhauling the squad, Di Canio aims to eradicate indiscipline and has introduced rules such as a ban on mobile phones, mayonnaise, tomato sauce and coke.
The Italian said: “Absolutely, even for the kit men, the kids in the academy, everyone. You can't do this. If you want a professional contract you have to behave like a professional."
He added: "Obviously enjoy your life. I won't say nothing if one day you like to go and have a cheeseburger. I ban my daughter from going to places like this but I know sometimes she goes because she enjoys it and because it is typical of a student. It is alright but not as a habit.”
One of the reasons he has handed John O'Shea the captaincy is that the Irish defender was used to similar rules at Manchester United.
Such strict rules and significant changes to the every day working life at Sunderland clearly had an impact and annoyed individuals, who Di Canio chose not to name.
But he thinks the squad he has are receptive to what he is doing after realising the new regime only want Sunderland to succeed.
Di Canio, who revealed he likes every one of his players to weigh in at around 88kg, said: "Maybe one or two individuals they never can understand. This is normal but I don't have this signal at the moment. But John O'Shea, he says because he's very smart, that everything is good, it was like this all of the time at Man United.
“That's important because we want to be a team. This year, I see because I study their body language in a mature way, that many of the players are approaching things in a much mature way.
“Many of them who I felt it would be difficult for them to understand in the future have surprised me. I was happy because I can also have a pride, no? Now they arrive early for the training session.
“Last season they used to arrive ten minutes before but now some players are arriving 50 minutes or one hour earlier than last year because they received the message that they can make better mobility.
“The fitness is really important for the team that we reach the right level; it will be easier for them when they are off the ball, when they turn at pace. They feel the need it.”
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