Sunderland lack mental fitness as well as physical fitness claims new manager Paolo Di Canio

Swipes at former regime continue

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The Independent Football

Paolo Di Canio has reiterated his belief that the Sunderland team he inherited from Martin O'Neill are not fit enough, claiming tests have shown some are not in as good a physical condition as the League One players he had at Swindon Town.

Di Canio made the accusation following his first game in charge, when Sunderland were defeated by Chelsea. He said then: "We do not have the fittest team in the world." Ahead of Sunday's derby at Newcastle, he backed that up.

"I was not disrespectful, it is my opinion," said the new manager. "I did not say they are rubbish or not rubbish. I have my value and my idea of how the team can be fit. This team, at this level in the Premier League, watching them play, can be mentally and physically fitter.

"We had some tests for players who have played at the top level for seven or eight years, and we found one player with a real difficulty and that is not acceptable at this level – that is my opinion. It is not me saying Martin O'Neill did a rubbish job."

Di Canio also warned Newcastle manager Alan Pardew there can be no repeat of last season's clash between the two dugouts during the game. Both teams were fined £60,000 for their conduct. "If he doesn't come into my dugout it's not a problem," said Di Canio. "If he comes into my dugout, I have to make issue. I don't push him like the referee, but I say 'go in your dugout, there is the fourth official'."

As for the match, Di Canio said: "We have to fight. We need to fill this [match] with real intelligence and positive energy to get a result. We know 13 years [since Sunderland won at Newcastle] is too long."

Meanwhile, supporters have been warned they face arrest during the derby if they mimic the fascist salute which Di Canio was once photographed making.