WES BROWN has been ruled out of Sunderland’s Premier League opener against Fulham on Saturday.
The 33-year-old’s return to fitness has been one of the big plus points of Sunderland’s pre-season campaign after the former England international has endured more than 18 months without a competitive game.
But Brown missed Sunderland’s final pre-season friendly against Danish side FC Midjtylland last week after suffering a minor problem with the knee that has been at the root of his injury woes.
Brown is only days away from a return to full training, but with fellow centre-halves John O’Shea, Carlos Cuellar, Valentin Roberge and Modibo Diakite at his disposal, Di Canio is wary of risking the former Manchester United man.
Di Canio said: “Wes has improved over the last few days.
“Another few days and he can start joining in with the rest of the team in training.
“But for this game, we will not risk him because we have had that scenario in the past and it is silly.
“We have four central defenders to choose from and he (Brown) will be important during the season so we must not risk him.”
Despite an injury set-back on the eve of the campaign, Di Canio believes Brown can play his part this season.
The head coach says the defender proved his fitness during pre-season after Sunderland had offered to pay off the remaining two years of his Black Cats contract.
“Everyone knows that initially Wes wasn’t in my plans,” said Di Canio.
“But he came with us to Italy for 10 days for the training camp and I decided to speak to him because I was very happy with the way he trained, and of course he is a very good professional and also a good footballer.
“I told him ‘I need you’, although I couldn’t say how many games he would play – maybe one, maybe 10, maybe more.
“Until he suffered the reaction, he had played in every pre-season game and did very well.
“He can give good service to the club, he has a lot of experience and can be a good player.”
Diakite is also unlikely to be in Di Canio’s starting XI this weekend after featuring in just one of Sunderland’s pre-season encounters.
While the ex-Lazio man is now injury free - after suffering a hamstring problem just four days into pre-season - Di Canio admits he is still short on match fitness.
“He is getting fitter, although he is a bit behind the others because of his injury situation,” added Di Canio.
“He has trained with the team, although when we work at high intensity he does not recover as quickly as the rest of the players.
“But he is available and could come onto the bench.”
Meanwhile, Di Canio has confirmed that out-of-favour full-back Phil Bardsley suffered a broken foot in Monday’s Under-21 encounter against Bolton.
That is likely to scupper Sunderland’s hopes of offloading the Bardsley before the end of the transfer window.