PAOLO Di Canio has issued a thinly-veiled criticism of Connor Wickham's attitude and admitted the Sunderland striker can lack motivation.
Wickham, who was yesterday named in the England Under-21 squad for this summer's European Championships in Israel, made only his second appearance under Di Canio when he was a half-time substitute in last weekend's 1-1 draw with Southampton.
The 20-year-old barely got a look in under Martin O'Neill, who was known to be critical of a perceived lack of application in his training and match performances.
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And while Di Canio is expected to retain Wickham in his squad for Sunday's final game of the season at Tottenham, the Italian has challenged the striker to improve his approach on the training ground.
"Maybe, with this guy, I have to slap his face a little bit," said the Sunderland boss. "I'm talking about motivating him in a genuine way because he has so much potential."But sometimes he comes in (to training) and he seems to be looking around saying, 'Where am I?'. I want to say, 'You are on the football pitch, with the grass'."
O'Neill sent Wickham on loan to Sheffield Wednesday in the latter stages of his Stadium of Light reign, a decision that was widely criticised by a number of supporters, who had seen Sunderland struggle to carve out goalscoring opportunities in a number of their matches this term.
It was hoped that Di Canio's arrival would lead to Wickham enjoying a sustained spell in the starting line-up, but an ankle injury sidelined him for a brief spell and he also suffered an illness that limited his involvement.
His unavailability caused Sunderland problems in their recent match against Stoke, as the absence of Steven Fletcher and Stephane Sessegnon had already limited Di Canio's attacking options.
And in a somewhat unorthodox criticism, the Black Cats boss has questioned Wickham's choice of fashion wear and suggested his desire to appear fashionable could have contributed to him feeling under the weather.
"He is an intelligent guy, but once he seemed to be complaining because it was wet," he said. "I told him that is typical for this area. Maybe if he doesn't go out in a small T-shirt when it is wet and cold, he won't be complaining."I have told him, 'No small T-shirts'. I don't want him to be missing a couple of games because he is a Playboy model. We are footballers, that is our job."
Meanwhile, Danny Rose has returned to Tottenham to have minor surgery on a wrist problem.
The full-back could not have played at White Hart Lane this weekend anyway, as the terms of his loan deal prevented him from appearing against his permanent employers.
"He is a Tottenham player and they have to treat him - it is not our responsibility," said Di Canio. "He has been fantastic for us and as a club we want to thank him for everything he has done. Maybe he will come to the game (on Sunday)."