FORMER SUNDERLAND boss Martin O’Neill has branded successor Paolo Di Canio a “managerial charlatan” and hit back at suggestions that his Black Cats team were not in shape.
Di Canio made little attempt to mask his criticism of O’Neill’s methods when he was appointed Sunderland head coach last April and repeatedly bemoaned the fitness levels among the players he had inherited.
But ahead of his first game in charge of the Republic of Ireland against Latvia on Friday, O’Neill has broken his silence over Di Canio’s remarks.
When asked whether he was disappointed by the Italian’s criticism, O’Neill said: “Paolo Di Canio? That managerial charlatan, absolutely, yeah.
“Paolo stepped in there and basically, as weeks ran on, he ran out of excuses. I had a wry smile to myself.
“It was like a 27-year-old manager stepping in and the first thing you do is criticise the fitness of the team beforehand. If you’ve ever seen Aston Villa play, you’ll see the one thing I pride myself on is teams being fit.
“What you’ll find interesting is that when he started, the team wasn’t fit for the Chelsea game. Then the following week when he won at Newcastle, not being fit wasn’t mentioned.
“Then about two weeks later, they got mauled by Aston Villa and someone asked him about the fitness. Suddenly, he didn’t know where to go because the team, as it progresses, should be getting more fit.
“Then, at the start of (this) season, when he conceded a late goal at Southampton, he was asked about the fitness regime, that he was going to have them the fittest team in the league.
“Suddenly, the fitness wasn’t for that game, but for Christmas, when the winter months set in. You know, I did have a wry smile at that one.”
O’Neill also believes Di Canio’s disciplinarian approach was doomed to failure after the former Swindon boss even banned condiments from Sunderland’s training ground.
“I’m hoping that at some stage or another, when John O’Shea (Sunderland skipper and Ireland defender) asks me at the dinner table to pass him the tomato sauce, I will be able to dispose of it immediately,” said O’Neill.
“But then if I feel you can’t win games without tomato sauce, I will empty it on his plate with the chips.
“John Robertson (O’Neill’s former assistant) once said that if every team in Italy has pre-match pasta for their meals, how come three get relegated each year?
“Maybe Paolo, who is Italian, could explain to me. It’s an interesting point, but maybe ability might come into it.”