On the eve of the Tyne-Wear derby, Paolo Di Canio has warned Newcastle United supporters that he will make Sunderland the North-east’s biggest club after criticising previous managers at the Stadium of Light for wasteful spending.
Di Canio takes his new team to St James’ Park tomorrow for one of the most important games to take place between the two sides. Defeat for Sunderland would move them closer to relegation from the Premier League while defeat for Newcastle would drag them back into the survival battle.
But the new Sunderland manager predicts that if his club manage to stay in the top flight this season, they will overtake their rivals over the next two years.
When specifically asked if Sunderland could become bigger than Newcastle, Di Canio said: “Not now, but in the future? Yes. Absolutely, yes. The plan is amazing. First we have to make sure we stay up, that will be okay. If we do, it will not happen in a week or a month, it will be one or two seasons.”
He then hit out his predecessors’ transfer spending and failure to maximise the club’s enormous potential. “Newcastle is a massive club, but Sunderland is a massive club,” he said. “The problem is that this massive club has not been used in the right way. There are 40-50,000 followers every game. The facilities are amazing, and this club has spent money to build the team too.
“It has not only spent £1 million on players. No, this club has spent big money and it is not acceptable for the club to have been where it is for the last two years.
“If we stay up this year, it will be close no matter what happens and that is not acceptable. But with the right organisation and plan and policy, if we stay up, these things will change to give us a chance.
“It is very famous the way people follow their club. Sunderland fans are amazing. They are known everywhere. That has made me and my staff feel even more responsibility. The luck for this club is that this manager has inner motivation. That comes from my nature, from my dadda and my momma. They are still my inspiration. That is vital – I live in their name. Everything I do will be with maximum desire. If it doesn’t work, ‘Di Canio is a donkey - bye bye’. But I’m sure that Di Canio is a stallion, and I will deliver the right job for my players in the future.”
The Italian will come face to face with Alan Pardew for the first time, with the Newcastle manager admitting that he expects Di Canio to be successful.
“I expect him to be a success,” Pardew said. “I hope he is a success at Sunderland because I know how important football is to the communities of both cities – 100 per cent I want them to stay up. But we are not far apart and will not be far apart at all if they win on Sunday.”
Meanwhile, Hatem Ben Arfa, who returned to action against Benfica on Thursday following a hamstring injury and is due to play tomorrow, has scotched reports he will leave Newcastle. “I want to stay here,” the winger said yesterday. “Me and my agent have not talked about [leaving]. I am focused on Newcastle and 100 per cent Newcastle. I hope to stay here.”
However, the forward was not as charitable as Pardew about Sunderland’s plight. “We want to win the game and it doesn’t really matter what happens to Sunderland after that,” he said. “If they end up going down, it is not our problem. That won’t be part of our thinking”