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Di Matteo leading contender for Sunderland job
SUNDERLAND will take their time over a replacement for the sacked Paolo Di Canio as speculation surrounding Roberto Di Matteo appeared to cool yesterday.
Di Matteo, who led Chelsea to Champions League glory in 2012, has been out of work since he was fired by the Blues last season, and his friendship with Sunderland director of football Roberto De Fanti made him an early favourite for the job.
However, Sunderland are in no rush to appoint Di Canio’s successor, with reserves manager Kevin Ball taking charge tonight for the Black Cats’ Capital One Cup third round encounter at home to Peterborough United.
Ball, who took caretaker charge of Sunderland at the end of the 2005-6 season, took training with the first team squad yesterday before leading his development side out against Middlesbrough at Hetton le Hole last night, and is expected to be in the dugout at the Stadium of Light for Sunderland’s Premier League game against Liverpool.
Bookmakers have Di Matteo as evens for the job, with a lot of interest yesterday in Tony Pulis, Gus Poyet and Steve McClaren. Alex McLeish, who watched Sunderland’s 3-0 defeat at West Bromwich Albion on Saturday, was 6-1 for the job as of last night, with Mick McCarthy, who Ball replaced in 2006, an outsider for a return to Sunderland.
Whoever comes in will have to slot into Sunderland’s organisational setup as a head coach and not a manager, which would deter the likes of Pulis and McLeish who have never worked within such a system, while Pulis would demand full control over transfers - something which Sunderland would not promise.
Di Matteo would have no problem in working within the regime at Sunderland and his Italian nationality would be an obvious advantage working with compatriots De Fanti and chief scout Valentino Angeloni.
McClaren, who left Nottingham Forest last season after a poor start to the Championship campaign, can work under a director of football having managed FC Twente and Wolfsburg following his spell as England manager, and his knowledge of the club would be advantageous with the former Middlesbrough manager still living in Yarm.
Poyet, although well-backed, may put off chairman Ellis Short having been fired from his role at Brighton and Hove Albion after a tumultuous play-off semi-final defeat to Crystal Palace which saw the former Tottenham midfielder send an angry internal email which led to his dismissal. However, at Brighton Poyet crafted a brand of exciting attacking football which supporters at Sunderland would take to.
Marcelo Bielsa, who last took charge of Athletic Bilbao, and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer are rank outsiders for the vacancy, although former Manchester United coach Rene Meulensteen, who cut short his role as Anzhi Makhachkala boss last month, could be interested having been passed over for the England Under-21 role in favour of Gareth Southgate.
Details emerged yesterday regarding the circumstances surrounding Di Canio’s departure over the weekend of confrontations with senior players in the wake of Saturday’s defeat, which prompted a mass deputation to chief executive Margaret Byrne.
Following Di Canio’s impromptu exchange with the fans following the full-time whistle, the Italian was understood to have entered the dressing room and began a tirade against his players, apportioning blame regarding the goals conceded.
Sunderland’s players took umbrage at that notion and confronted Di Canio, before visiting Byrne and Roberto De Fanti the following day. They shared the players’ concerns and assured them that Di Canio was to be removed from power.
Meanwhile, Peterborough manager Darren Ferguson expressed his shock at Di Canio's dismissal, and admits that the change at the top will make his side's chances a lot more difficult tonight.
Ferguson said: “Paolo had only been there six months which is not a lot of time so I am surprised they’ve made a change.
“I guess we will find out what difference the change makes to Sunderland, but it has made our preparations a little more difficult.
“Their set-pieces and their formation may now be different for a start and there is often a positive short-term reaction to a change of manager.
“The players and the fans will see it as a fresh start. They’ve been losing too many games and they will want that to change as soon as possible so I’m expecting Sunderland to fly at us from the start.
“We will need to frustrate them by keeping the ball. We know we face a hard game as we are playing a Premier League side away from home, but we also know that if we play to our best we will give them a tough match.”
Ferguson, who presided over Posh's 2-0 defeat to Sunderland in 2012, has never beaten a Premier League side while in charge of United, and added: “It’s a big game for us and it’s one we want to win. There’s no point in even travelling up there if we didn’t think like that.
“It’s a brilliant stadium to play in and there should be a decent crowd.
“The start to the game will be crucial. If we could in front I’d fancy our chances as we are such a good counter-attacking team.
“We’re in the middle of a real tough run of games and there’s a bit of travelling involved, but we’ve coped well with some difficult fixtures already and we can do it again.”
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