CHRIS COLEMAN has promised he will “not be pulling any punches” with his underperforming Sunderland squad, and has issued a direct challenge to Jack Rodwell to prove how much he wants to play for the Black Cats.

Coleman will complete his first week in charge when he takes his side to Burton Albion this afternoon, and while Tuesday’s game at Aston Villa means he has not been able to spend too much time on the training ground, he is beginning to get a handle on the scale of the problems he has inherited.

Morale is understandably low given his side’s failure to win any of their last 16 league matches, and he needs to mould a tactical system that will get the best out of the players at his disposal.

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Most importantly of all though, he is looking for evidence of the heart, desire and commitment that will be needed if Sunderland are to haul themselves away from the relegation zone this season, and is close to the stage where he will start convening some one-to-one meetings so he can deliver some harsh home truths.

He is clearly concerned by the scale of Sunderland’s injury list, and while some players such as the unfortunate Duncan Watmore are nursing long-term problems that cannot be avoided, he is ready to start questioning whether some absentees are not doing enough to make themselves available to help the cause.

“I’ll be questioning things once I have some experience with them,” said Coleman. “I don’t really have enough experience yet, but I won’t be afraid to ask questions, and when I question something like that with them, it’ll be right to them, across a table in my office.

“It’ll be me and him, and he can tell me what he thinks and I’ll tell him what I think. We can’t carry any passengers between now and the end of the season, we simply cannot.

“Whatever has happened before me has happened. My fight is now, and what is in front of me. I’ll judge everybody on the experience I get with them, but I certainly won’t pull any punches with any of them if I think they could do more. I don’t think it’s too much to ask to play football for 90 minutes at the weekend, it’s not a bad life.”

Coleman remains reluctant to talk specifics until he has had more experience of working with his squad, but he made an exception to issue a direct challenge to Rodwell.

The former England international is earning £60,000-a-week despite contributing to Sunderland’s relegation last season, but has only started one Championship game this term.

He suffered a variety of minor knocks during Simon Grayson’s time at the Stadium of Light, and the former Black Cats boss was so frustrated that he ordered Rodwell to appear at centre-half in the Checkatrade Trophy just to ensure the 26-year-old received some much-needed match practice.

If Rodwell was anywhere close to his best, he would be a major asset to a team struggling in the bottom half of the Championship, but Coleman appears to believe the midfielder’s problems are more mental than physical.

“You have to look at Jack and think, talent wise, he is a very good player,” said the Sunderland boss. “But he hasn’t played a lot. He’s been here two or three years I think. An individual has to want to change himself.

“Unless you want to change yourself and do something yourself, it doesn’t matter what anyone says. Ability wise, Jack has it all day long. But you’ve got to say, ‘You’ve got to play more Jack and offer yourself up more’.

“We need Jack to be on the pitch and not the treatment room. That’s up to Jack. If you’re the type of person who needs pushing all the time, then you’re not the type of player who accepts accountability.”

Leadership qualities are clearly important to Coleman, and that does not simply mean balling out other members of the squad in the confines of the dressing room.

The former Wales boss cited Gareth Bale as a prime example of someone who was prepared to sacrifice individual ambitions or concerns for the good of the team, even though his natural talent was far superior to that of any of his team-mates.

He is looking for similar examples of self-sacrifice in the Sunderland squad, having claimed it is far easier to assess the quality of someone’s character when they are going through difficult times than when everything in the garden is rosy.

“I think when people talk about leaders, they get mixed up,” said Coleman, who is set to restore Lee Cattermole to the heart of the Sunderland midfield this afternoon. “Just because you’re the loudest in the dressing room, it doesn’t mean you’re the best leader.

“You can lead by your actions and lead when you’re asked a question and you’re not afraid to answer it, even if you get it wrong. What I mean by that is you can play good, bad or indifferent, but you’re always available as much as you can be.

“That’s leading, not just shouting and screaming. It’s leading when you’re always available, no matter what the cause, you’re there for the team. That’s what a good leader is, and we need leaders – not one. It’s all about that, but until I’ve been here a bit longer, I can’t really assess it.”