CONNOR WICKHAM says few teams in the Premier League will be fitter than Sunderland next season after their overseas exertions.
The Black Cats resumed training at the Academy of Light yesterday after spending the bulk of their pre-season campaign in foreign climes.
Paolo Di Canio took his side to Italy for a 10-day training camp, just four days after the start of pre-season, before Sunderland’s players headed to Hong Kong for the Barclays Asia Trophy following 48 hours of respite.
England Under-21 striker Wickham expected Sunderland’s pre-season to be draining, yet says Di Canio’s regime will reap its rewards when the Premier League gets underway.
The 20-year-old said: “We went to Italy for a couple of weeks and were only back for two days before going out to Hong Kong.
“Now we’re back in the North East, we’ll be one of fittest teams in the league, without a doubt.
“So hopefully, we can use Hong Kong and Italy as a stepping stone for the start of the season.
“It’s been difficult, but all of the lads were expecting a difficult pre-season.
“We’ve all dealt with it and completed all the runs and the games.
“We are feeling fitter and stronger in the games, so I think it’s only going to help us and improve us as a team.”
Sunderland demonstrated the benefits of their fitness programme in Hong Kong, with two encouraging displays in the Barclays Asia Trophy.
The extra sharpness of Di Canio’s side saw them beat Spurs 3-1, before succumbing 1-0 to Manchester City in the final.
Although Wickham was deflated to lose against City, he believes Sunderland made a statement about their conditioning by performing well in such rain-affected games.
“Obviously the conditions weren’t great and then it started to rain halfway through both games,” added Wickham.
“But there was nothing we could do. We just had to try to play our own game.
“They were playing on the same pitch as us so I don’t think we can blame them.
“It was a shame to lose after getting to the final.
“But it’s all about fitness at this stage of the season.”