Paolo Di Canio has hard job at Sunderland, says Michael Gray

Last Updated: 01/04/13 1:07pm

Michael Gray told Soccer Extra that Paolo Di Canio will bring box-office qualities to Sunderland - but is unsure whether the Italian can keep the Black Cats in the Premier League.

Former Swindon chief Di Canio penned a two-and-a-half year deal to become Sunderland boss on Sunday night and will replace Martin O'Neill, who was axed after 16 months in charge with the team lying just one point above the drop zone.

Di Canio guided Swindon out of League Two last term and had led the Robins into the promotion shake-up in League One before resigning in February due to issues with the Wiltshire side's hierarchy.

Ex-Sunderland left-back Gray says he is pleased to see the effervescent 44-year-old managing at the highest level, but says Sunderland's injury woes could make his first job in the top flight a tough one.

"He is bonkers but great for the Premier League and I hope he gets it right," Gray said of former Juventus, Celtic, Sheffield Wednesday, West Ham and Charlton striker Di Canio.

"It's going to be entertaining if nothing else and if he can get a win in the Tyne-Wear derby it could be like Jose Mourinho running down the touchline.

"I think Martin missed his wing man Robertson and having that somebody to go to if things were going wrong."

Michael Gray

"There are seven games to go and they are all going to be huge, but they have a lot of injuries - Steven Fletcher and Lee Cattermole are out for the season - and it is going to be difficult.


O'Neill departed the Stadium of Light after leading Sunderland to just 21 wins from his 66 games in charge, and while Gray was surprised to see the Ulsterman sacked, he thinks the ex-Aston Villa chief will regret not appointing long-term ally John Robertson to his coaching set-up.

"I was a little bit shocked to see Martin leave at this stage of the season but I think he missed his wing man Robertson and having that somebody to go to if things were going wrong," said Gray, who made over 350 league appearances for the Black Cats between 1992-2004.

"I think it was a mistake not appointing John (who assisted O'Neill at Wycombe, Norwich, Leicester, Celtic, and Villa), even though reports suggest he didn't want to go there anyway and saw himself as retired.

"It is a bit of a shame Martin has gone because he was a Sunderland fan as a lad and I thought he and the club were a perfect fit - but it's about results."

Steve Howey, meanwhile, who formerly played for Sunderland's North East rivals Newcastle, thinks O'Neill had lost his mojo on the touchline.

And he believes Di Canio could be the man to inject some fizz back in to the Black Cats, who are winless in their previous eight Premier League clashes.

"Sunderland fans will love Paolo's passion and how he gets involved, as while Martin is a great manager and a lovely fella, it didn't seem like the spark was there at the side of the pitch," said the ex-centre-back.

"We've seen before that a new manager can come in and get totally different results with the same players, and if that happens Paolo will have done his job and they can then build for next season.

"But if they go down it will be a major blow (considering the financial benefits of staying up)."