After a great summer of sport, Sunderland revolution faces big August test

Sixer photographed by M Salut, framed by Jake
Sixer photographed by M Salut, framed by Jake

Pete Sixsmith joins the general acclaim of a mighty summer for British sport, though he cannot resist another of his swipes at Rugby Union, and starts reflecting on the immediate challenges ahead for the new-look squad assembled by PDC and Roberto De Fanti …

This has been
some summer for British sport, of that there is no doubt. Chris Froome wins the Tour, the Ashes are as good as retained, Andy Murray breaks the Wimbledon hoodoo, the Lions manage to beat Australia and Paolo di Canio is about to restore Sunderland to their rightful place at the very top of the top division.

I thought Froome was magnificent in the Tour. He is the most determined and focused cyclist I have seen from this country and his stage win on Mont Ventoux, where Haswell lad and probable Sunderland fan, Tommy Simpson died in 1967, was, for me, the highlight of the whole three weeks – after the wonderful views of la France profonde that TV accorded us.

His final words from the podium on Sunday, where he made it as clear as he could that he was as clean as a whistle, were simple and effective and may well quieten those in the press (mostly French) who seem to think that he is a cosmopolitan version of Lance Armstrong.

The Ashes series looks over after Australia’s top order continues to give a passable impersonation of Mainsforth CC on a bad day and the whole lot are likely to have completely imploded by the time they reach Chester-Le-Street in August.

Those much valued, ridiculously overpriced tickets don’t look quite as attractive as they did when they were ordered 18 months ago.

Andy Murray gave us our first Men’s Singles winner since Fred Perry and now looks the complete player. I don’t mind Murray, who has overcome the traumas of his schooldays and being a Hibs fan to reach the peak of his profession, but the absurd “tennis fans” who paint their faces and shout out for effect annoy me a great deal.

Finally, a good word for a Rugby Union team, who eventually managed to beat Australia, a feat which was accorded the same kind of status as Nelson’s victory at Trafalgar, Wellington crushing Bonaparte at Waterloo and Sunderland winning 2-1 at Burnley with nine men in 1978.

What was conveniently forgotten was that Union is the fourth most popular winter team game in the land down under after Rugby League, Aussie Rules and proper football. But the toffs who follow Union would never let the truth get in the way of a good story.

And so to us. We have been the most active Premier League club in the market this summer, having identified our targets early and having got them in before the mildly competitive stuff starts in Hong Kong on Wednesday.

The new director of football, Roberto De Fanti – a man so good that he does not need to employ an assistant – brought in the first four within days of the season ending. All four – Modibo Diakité, Valentin Roberge, Cabral and David Moberg Karlsson – have been given time to settle in and become attuned to Di Canio’s methods and life in a relatively remote area of the UK.

The subsequent arrival of Jozy Altidore, El Hadji Ba, Vito Mannone and Emanuele Giaccherini, with the distinct possibility of Gino Peruzzi signing a deal, means that the bulk of our rebuilding programme has been completed before clubs like Cardiff City and Newcastle United have brought in any one, although the latter did bring in a director of football who then sloped off on holiday.

My pal Pete Horan is sorely tempted to wager a tenner on us being top of the league at Christmas and he clearly thinks that we will take the rest by surprise. I have my doubts, but the opening three games are absolutely crucial. We must try to hit the ground running. All three are winnable if the new faces have blended in with a different style of football and a different way of life.

It reminded us of the whirlwind that hit the club in August 2006 when Roy Keane was appointed. The similarities were quite striking.

Both had had excellent careers, although we agreed that Keane was probably a “better” player than Di Canio. Both had excelled in their coaching badges; Keane had done his A badge with a friend and had been polite, friendly and incredibly hard working, preferring to do his homework rather than having a beer with the others. Di Canio was rated as top of the class in Europe when he took his and he turned a disparate bunch at Swindon into an extremely well organised and successful team.

Few will forget that transfer deadline night when Keane brought in five new players, all of them known to him as team mates at some stage of his career. Stan Varga, Graham Kavanagh, Liam Miller, David Connolly and Ross Wallace then played at Derby within 48 hours of signing and began the Keane revolution which took us back to the Premier League with a 2-1 win after we went a goal down. Chris Brown and Ross Wallace got our two; a very canny day.

That it unravelled for the Irishman is indisputable. He cut a sometimes lonely figure as he plotted his way through a difficult season in the Premier and the lack of an older and more experienced colleague to work with him was probably a hindrance.

Brought up under the two greatest British managers of their respective generations, he would have had no truck with a director of football. Both Clough and Ferguson had complete control and that was the Keane way as well.

Di Canio has De Fanti to look at the broader picture, leaving the coach to concentrate on what we hope he does best – coach the players.

We saw what he could do when we won at Newcastle and beat Everton. We also saw how wrong he could get things in the abysmal showing at Villa Park. However, those were not his players. Two have already left and others may well be saying their farewells at Cleadon when they return from the Far East.

Another magic carpet ride beckons starting in little less than a month’s time. Fulham is an interesting start. We were dreadful against them in March, clawing our way back to take a point in a game we should have lost. If this is to be a revolution, it needs to start at the Stadium of Light at 3pm on Saturday August 17. We await the outcome with a mixture of anticipation and trepidation.

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