Need to know: Sunderland
MANCHESTER, England (AP) — Five things to know about Sunderland going into the 2013-14 English Premier League season:
DI CANIO — LIABILITY OR LEGEND IN THE MAKING?
With his knee-sliding celebrations on the touchlines, news-conference outbursts and — of course — his past political leanings, few managers have made as explosive an impact in the Premier League as Paolo Di Canio. But the maverick Italian showed he has managerial ability to back up his bluster by saving Sunderland from relegation last season after replacing Martin O’Neill in March, when the team was nose-diving toward the League Championship. But the so-called honeymoon period is over for Di Canio. Critics say he lacks the requisite coaching experience to be thrown into the Premier League like he has been, after just 21 months at lower-league Swindon. He needs to prove them wrong. However it turns out for Sunderland and Di Canio, it’ll be fun watching from the sidelines.
The exit of goalkeeper Simon Mignolet to Liverpool left Di Canio with a difficult task in finding a suitable replacement for the Belgium international. Mignolet was arguably Sunderland’s best player last season and had a crucial role in maintaining the team’s status in the Premier League. Di Canio signed Vito Mannone from Arsenal to compete alongside Ireland international Keiren Westwood for a place in the starting XI. Mannone had a reputation at Arsenal as prone to making errors and Di Canio will be hoping to erase that habit from his game if Sunderland is to improve upon its finish of 17th last season.
Amid a slew of unheralded purchases this summer, Sunderland pulled off a remarkable coup by signing Italy midfielder Emanuele Giaccherini on a four-year contract from Juventus. The 28-year-old Giaccherini is a creative player who likes to attack and won back-to-back Serie A titles during his time with Juve. He has also played 14 times for Italy, including involvement in the 2012 European Championship squad and at the 2013 Confederations Cup. He joined Sunderland for a fee reported to be around 6.5 million pounds ($10 million) and a player of his prestige will undoubtedly excite fans ahead of Sunderland’s first league game, at home to Fulham.
Pictures in a Sunday newspaper of defender Phil Bardsley lying on a casino floor in a pile of 50-pound notes was the final straw for Di Canio, who ripped into his players for their lack of discipline after a 1-0 defeat to Tottenham on the last day of the season in May. Vowing to improve the attitude of his players, he also went on the attack following a preseason friendly win over Danish side FC Midtjylland this month, saying some of them “failed to complete their mission” of demonstrating they are ready for the start of the new Premier League season. His outspoken approach angered many during his time at Swindon and it remains to be seen whether his players at Sunderland respond well to Di Canio — or revolt.
CAN JOHNSON STEP UP?
The world appeared to be at Adam Johnson’s feet when he moved to Manchester City in 2010 and quickly found himself a regular in the England squad. A brilliant dribbler with a penchant for spectacular goals, he was the mazy winger many England fans had been craving for years. It’s all gone a bit flat for the 26-year-old Johnson, though. After falling out with then-City manager Roberto Mancini, he completed a big-money switch to Sunderland a year ago but frustrated fans with his inconsistency last season. Will Di Canio keep faith with Johnson, especially with Giaccherini adding options among the attacking midfielders?