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Fun comes back to Sunderland as Poyet deal edges closer
AS discussions behind the scenes take place to appoint Paolo Di Canio’s replacement, caretaker boss Kevin Ball has been happy to bring the fun back to the Sunderland dressing room.
Di Canio’s turbulent 175-day reign in charge of the Black Cats had put club employees on tenterhooks, particularly in recent weeks for personnel ranging from long-serving security staff to the team captain.
But in the end the players united to bring an end to the Italian’s reign on Sunday and his exit immediately brought smiles back to the faces of certain individuals pleased to see the back of him.
Ball, who put his name in the frame for the job on a full-time basis after Tuesday’s Capital One Cup victory over Peterborough United, did not want to talk specifically about Di Canio, but did describe how there is a more relaxed feel around the club now.
Sunderland’s former captain said: “That’s me in general, that’s me as a person. I like them to work extremely hard. I’m one of these people who would say,’Listen, there is a time and a place to have a joke and a laugh but there’s also a time to be serious’.
“If it’s their time and they want to have a bit of a laugh, I’ll let them do it. If it’s my time and they want to have a bit of a laugh and it’s right, I’ll do it. But if I felt it was a time to work hard then I would say the same again. I would expect them to be just like that.”
Despite strong suggestions from Gustavo Poyet’s camp that a deal is close to being agreed that will see him take the reins, Ball is still working on the basis he will be in charge for the visit of Liverpool on Sunday.
The improved performance against League One side Peterborough filled Ball with confidence and revealed that every member of the squad has a fresh start after a number had fallen out with Di Canio.
Ball said: “The other manager had his prerogative and fair play to him. From my point of view, I’m possibly only here until Sunday. But within that remit I will pick what I think is the right team to play the game.
“What I’ll also do is speak to all the players and I’ll explain why. Ultimately, some will be, ‘OK, no problem’, and others might be quite upset.
“We had one player who was upset he wasn’t playing against Peterborough, but not upset ‘boo-hoo’. He was upset because he wants to play. That is a little bit of a difference. I thought fair play. It made me feel good because it means I have players that are hungry to play football. I explained why to him and he was happy with that.”
The biggest name to clash with Di Canio was Lee Cattermole. Last season’s skipper was an outcast for the majority of the summer but was back involved at West Brom, where he was then partly blamed for the third goal.
One of Ball’s first decisions was to recall the combative midfielder to the Sunderland midfield against Peterborough and he turned in a man of the match performance on Tuesday.
“I thought the way he drove the other players on was fantastic and that is what you expect from Lee,” said Ball. “After a certain period in the first half he went down on his haunches and I sort of shouted, ‘Are you alright?’ and he shouted back, ‘No, I’ve just taken one in the knackers’. And I went, ‘Fair enough then.’ “But again, it was a performance from somebody who hasn’t played 90 minutes for a long period of time and I thought he was excellent. There were a lot of others but you’d have to give credit to him.”
Ball is scheduled to hold a pre-match press conference at the Academy of Light training ground tomorrow, with Sunderland indicating there are no plans in place to announce a new manager beforehand.
Poyet, 45, is the name Sunderland’s director of football Roberto De Fanti has been pushing for in his chats with chairman Ellis Short.
Poyet said: "On Wednesday, Poyet said: “My opportunity to manage Sunderland is there. I’m waiting. Nervously.
“Since the start of the season, I’ve dedicated myself to watching the games of teams that might call me if things weren’t going too well.”
But despite talks with the Uruguayan, who is keen on taking the post he was a front-runner for in April, Short is keen to do his homework on all of the candidates on his short-list.
While Poyet looks the most likely to succeed Di Canio at a this stage, Sunderland are also still considering the likes of Roberto Di Matteo, Gianfranco Zola, Steve McClaren, Andrea Stramaccioni and Rene Meulensteen.
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