PAOLO Di Canio says Sunderland’s pre-season will begin in earnest next week when the Black Cats take part in the Barclays Asia Trophy in Hong Kong.
The Sunderland squad are currently coming to the end of a 10-day stay in a secluded training retreat in northern Italy.
That in itself has been a vital part of Di Canio’s preparations, with the head coach focusing on fitness and team bonding.
But he says next week offers the chance for the new recruits and the existing players to finally get to grips with genuinely competitive action.
Sunderland take on Tottenham Hotspur next Wednesday ahead of a finals day at the weekend in the tournament which also involves Manchester City and local side South China FC.
And for Di Canio, it will all be about getting the benefits of competitive football.
“We will keep working so hard and now we play two very important games,” he said.
“The players, especially the new players, can test themselves straight away against one Barclays Premier League side, for sure, in a full stadium.
“It is a chance to feel the real atmosphere.
“Obviously we are not in England, but the passion of the Chinese people will be very high.
“The players can understand also that they will face an opponent they will play during the league season. It will be another very good, important moment.”
The Hong Kong trip coming so quickly on top of the Italian training camp means the players will have been living in each other’s pockets for weeks by the time they return to Sunderland.
But Di Canio says that is all part of a plan to create players who are close to each other and know each others’ game inside out.
Once again we are going to live 24 hours per day together,” he said. “During that time we will play two very important games and the players will be looking forward to them.
“They are very important to us because the players will go mad if they run, run, run without playing football!
“Including Italy, we will have spent 20-21 days together, so that will be a crucial moment for us as a squad.”