After Sunderland’s plucky defeat to Tottenham on the final day saw them finish just outside the relegation zone, eccentric manager Paulo Di Canio branded some of his players’ behaviour “pathetic” and said that he would be getting rid of those guilty over the summer, adding that he himself will be looking to take on at least six new players. With Di Canio unaccustomed to issuing empty threats, could Sunderland become the Bargain Basement of the summer transfer window, and what effect will it have on the squad as a whole?
Sunderland do not necessarily have such a poor team of players, although there is a terrifying lack of depth; the problem more seems to be that they have put together a squad of players whose attitudes seem to result in a collective and undeserved complacency. It has been reflected in many of their performances, the inconsistency of which recently “genuinely scared” a hyperbolic Garth Crooks. Steven Fletcher seems to be their only consistent goal-scorer as Stephane Sessegnon runs hot and cold more than a Travelodge shower.
Danny Graham came in to provide some competition up front, and provided only competition on the bench. James McLean promised a huge amount last season, but failed to deliver more and more as the season went on, while another wide man Adam Johnson only show brief flashes of his doubtless ability. It is hard to pick out any member of the current squad whose performances suggest that they could lift Sunderland to the heady heights of mid-table finishes which the spending and fanbase of the club dictate.
Di Canio seemed to be particularly angry at Phil Bardsley and Matthew Kilgallon after they were photographed in a casino during the week before their final game. These two are certain to leave over the summer, with the latter joining Titus Bramble (!) in being released on a free, but as we saw with fellow Italian Roberto Mancini at Manchester City, could Di Canio’s Draconian management style alienate what will remain of the squad come next season?
Sunderland is a club of big personalities, and there is no doubt that Di Canio will clash with many of them. Steven Fletcher’s 11 league goals in 28 games is pretty impressive in the context of the Black Cats’ season, and there will surely be a couple of clubs coming in for him, perhaps even Roberto Martinez’s Everton. He will want to further his career, and no matter how much Sunderland may want to keep him, if he wants to go he will, and if the offer gets anywhere near £15m, the club will surely have to accept.
The impressive Danny Rose is already a confirmed departure back to parent club Tottenham, Simon Mignolet may very well end up at Arsenal or other pastures, and if Sessegnon survives many more of his new manager’s hairdryers then I will be very surprised.
The weakness is evident all over the pitch, and if Sunderland lose these key players, Di Canio will have to rebuild a team around Carlos Cuellar and Jack Colback. There are better bases. Who can he bring in? It will be very difficult indeed to convince many big names to move to a cold wet town in the North East of England who have just avoided relegation and employed a manager who is threatening to impose even stricter curfews and reduced holiday time.
The current squad without Steven Fletcher is desperately short of quality in front of goal, and Mignolet has been to important not to replace. Di Canio will either have to keep those two, or splash the cash wisely, but he will also have to work hard to convince players such as Basel’s Cabral and Andreas Weimann that Sunderland is the right place for them.
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