PAOLO DI CANIO has suggested the Sunderland players who rebelled against him in the latter stages of his managerial reign at the Stadium of Light are “cowards”.

Di Canio was sacked in September following a 3-0 defeat at West Brom and things came to a head when members of his squad are understood to have voiced concerns about his methods to chief executive Margaret Byrne.

Sunderland had not won a Premier League game at the start of the campaign when they took just one point from the opening 15 available to them.

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"To be honest, I've never been part of a group of players that went to the chairman," he said. “That is for cowards.

“If the club is weak then they believe in the players, if they are strong they believe more in the manager. That is not something that can only happen at Sunderland, it can happen anywhere.”

Since Di Canio lost his job – just six months after he replaced Martin O'Neill and led the Magpies to safety – his successor, Gus Poyet, has revived fortunes and raised hope of keeping top-flight football on Wearside.

Director of football Roberto De Fanti has also lost his job in recent weeks and he was largely responsible for the 14 new signings that arrived under Di Canio's watch.

In an interview with BBC's Football Focus, Di Canio said: "We should ask the director who has now been sacked, De Fanti why all the targets I mentioned to them and we had all the chances to bring, why they didn't come.

"When something goes wrong it is obvious some relationships do not work, but I kept the club up with a similar group of players last year when I took over from Martin O'Neill. I saved the club.”

He added: "In some way, they blamed the previous manager but there was no chaos about that at the time.

"It is not an issue for me. I was sacked like 100 managers in life - but when it happened to me, there is always said to be a problem, but there was not a problem."