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Survival the first objective if De Fanti's Poyet plan is to work
TODAY'S appointment of Gustavo Poyet as Sunderland's new manager is the fourth key decision in the space of less than a year that has been heavily influenced by director of football Roberto De Fanti. With the club's Premier League status at stake, it is high time the Italian got one of his judgement calls right.
Ellis Short might be the person paying the bills and signing the contract that confirmed Poyet as Paolo Di Canio's successor, but increasingly it is the secretive De Fanti who is charting the direction in which Sunderland are heading.
It was De Fanti who championed Di Canio's cause after Martin O'Neill was dismissed, even though his fellow countryman had never managed at a level higher than League One. While no Sunderland fan will forget last season's remarkable win at St James' Park, the appointment has to be regarded as a failure.
It was De Fanti who initiated a radical overhaul of Sunderland's backroom set up, removing respected figures such as former chief scout Pop Robson, ex-head of medicine Dr Glen Rae and youth coach Craig Liddle, who had formerly managed Darlington. Italian Valentino Angeloni was appointed as chief scout and given a wide-ranging remit overseeing the entire recruitment operation. It is undeniable that the feel of the club has changed as a result.
Together with Angeloni, it was De Fanti, not Di Canio, who was the driving force behind the summer signing policy that saw 14 new players arrive at the Stadium of Light from a variety of exotic locations, while Simon Mignolet and Stephane Sessegnon, two of Sunderland's better players last season, left to join Premier League rivals. It is too early to make a definitive judgement on the summer arrivals, but aside from Emanuele Giaccherini and perhaps Jozy Altidore and Valentin Roberge, it is hard to claim that any have been a resounding success.
All of which leaves us at a position where Sunderland are rooted to the foot of the table with just one point from seven matches, and welcoming their third manager in the space of little more than six months.
That manager is Poyet, and once again de Fanti played a pivotal role in his appointment, with sources claiming the director of football recommended the Uruguayan as his preferred candidate from an early stage of the recruitment process.
Given that he is effectively Poyet's line manager, it is only to be expected that De Fanti would have a major input into such a critical decision. Yet while plenty has been said and written about the questionable credentials of the person performing the director of football role up the road at Newcastle United, precious little has been mentioned when it comes to de Fanti's suitability for the job he is performing at Sunderland.
Did he arrive at the Stadium of Light with a glittering CV containing stints in a similar role at some of the biggest clubs in Europe? Not exactly.
Instead, De Fanti's background is as a football agent, representing the likes of Holland international Nigel de Jong and Manchester City youngster John Guidetti. He had never been a director of football prior to joining Sunderland, and while his previous experience undoubtedly makes him well versed in terms of striking deals and chasing players, does it really make him the ideal person to be recommending managers and transforming the entire ethos of a club?
The genesis of his relationship with Short is unknown, but it pre-dates the appointment of Di Canio and it is clear that the pair had grown close before O'Neill was dismissed.
Having regarded O'Neill as the perfect antidote to the stagnation he witnessed towards the end of Steve Bruce's time at the helm, Short was understandably disillusioned when the Northern Irishman was unable to turn things around.
He accepted a more radical change was required, and De Fanti was on hand to outline exactly what that change should be. A completely different outlook in terms of recruitment and backroom organisation. The exploitation of markets that had previously been untapped. And the appointment of a vibrant, dynamic head coach who could work within the overarching system and extract the maximum from players who had not commanded astronomical fees.
The initial choice of manager did not work out, and while it would be wrong to characterise Poyet as Di Canio mark two, there are clearly similarities in terms of the pair's outgoing persona, refusal to bow to conformity and relative lack of experience at the highest level.
Faced with options such as Tony Pulis, Alex McLeish and even Kevin Ball, it is easy to see why De Fanti would prefer to work above someone like Poyet, who will not push the boundaries of his remit or bridle at the direction in which the club is headed.
Perhaps the Di Canio era was simply teething trouble, and De Fanti's grand plan is destined to catapult Sunderland into the Premier League elite. For now though, survival is the sole requirement. Fail to achieve it, and the fall out will be profound.