PAOLO Di Canio admits he’s fretful of the fitness of Sunderland players away on international duty and in particular, that of Emanuele Giaccherini
The Sunderland head coach has made it his mission to get his players superfit this summer but some are further behind the others – like Steven Fletcher for example, who only returned to first-team football at the weekend, and £6.8m signing Giaccherini who linked up weeks later than the rest of the Sunderland squad.
Di Canio, who described Fletcher as “no more than 40 per cent fit”, after the Scot’s goalscoring return against Crystal Palace, is delighted that Scotland boss Gordon Strachan has seen sense and not called up the 26-year-old for tonight’s World Cup qualifying game against Belgium.
It means that Sunderland can work constructively during the international break on improving the fitness of a striker whose form and fitness will prove pivotal to the outcome of Sunderland’s season.
But many of the current Sunderland squad are involved in internationals across Europe and the Italian says that he will be keen to see what condition they return in, especially Giaccherini, who he has described as little more than “65 per cent fit”.
He said: “The first thing you worry about of course is injuries – Fletcher himself has just returned from a long spell out with an injury he picked up on international duty.
“And so as a coach that is always something on your mind but you are also a little concerned about players’ fitness too because often when players are away on international duty they do not do a great amount of fitness work.
“That does not matter so much when it is later in the season and players are already very fit but at the start of the season you can still be working on players and that for us includes Giaccherini.
“He is going to be a very important player for us and we need him to be fully fit, which he is not yet.
“He is improving all the time but international duty might not be great for him because it is all about the matches themselves rather than the training side of things – if you do not play or do not start the matches – you can end up doing not much fitness work.
“In his case, I’m disappointed that we have not longer to work with him on our training ground and when he gets back we will examine his fitness levels, along with all the other players.
“You expect them to drop back a little but hopefully not much because we need to get the very most out of our squad this season and fitness is a crucial part of it for us.”