PAOLO DI CANIO insists Lee Cattermole must abide by his rules if he is to force his way back into first-team contention.
Cattermole has been handed an olive branch by Di Canio after returning to full training with the rest of the Sunderland squad, although tomorrow’s visit of Arsenal will come too soon for him.
The 25-year-old, who has lost the Sunderland captaincy to John O’Shea this season, looked to be on his way out of the Stadium of Light during the summer after the Black Cats were ready to offload the midfielder, who has played just 60 minutes of first-team football since last November due to a knee problem.
Di Canio believes a fully-fit Cattermole could be a huge asset for Sunderland and has been encouraged by the early signs from the former Middlesbrough man on the training field.
But the head coach has warned that Cattermole cannot afford to let his standards slip and fall foul of the Italian’s no-nonsense disciplinary regime.
Di Canio said: “I don’t have prejudice and now that he’s back with us, I treat him like the most important player in the squad.
“But he has to follow my regime, he has to stay in my circle. If he is going to jump out, he can’t stay with me.
“If he understands this - like he does at the moment - he’s more than welcome.
“We need a British guy with this fantastic energy and desire.
“I’m here to do the best course for my players, my fans and the club.
“If I have to close one eye sometimes, I do it, if I think it’s necessary for the cause.
“But he has to stay with my principles, otherwise I don’t think you’ll do a great job.
“I was clear with him.
“At the moment, it’s easy to feel enthusiasm because he smells he can be important for the squad.
“He must extend this desire even when the day will come when he can be selected, and I don’t select him.
“That will be a crucial moment. It depends on him.”
Cattermole lasted just 45 minutes for the Sunderland Under-21s last month in an aborted attempt to return from his knee problem.
The injury has been the latest in a series of sustained periods on the sidelines which have dogged Cattermole ever since he moved to the Stadium of Light four years ago.
But he is now part of a group of Sunderland players doing extra sessions after training to strengthen their core muscles - in Cattermole’s case the back problem which has continued to affect him throughout his Black Cats career.
Di Canio added: “Is it (the injury record) because of bad luck or not being in the habit of training hard and looking after himself?
“In the last few days, he’s sent a message to those close to him that he’s very happy because he doesn’t feel any pain in his back.
“We have a group of players who have two hours a week extra for the back, hamstrings and neck to prevent injuries. Pro-action is better than reaction.
“Before (Di Canio’s reign) do you think he used to do this? Two minutes, shower and away in the car because it was the habit.
“He’s got no pain now and he can train.
“Last week, he had a training session with us with 10 x 300m, 8 x 800m and although he had general stiffness, there was nothing wrong with his back.
“You can’t do that if you’re having three or four days off. He’s 25, not 38.”