Earlier this season, when his players fleetingly looked capable of winning the Europa League, Alan Pardew suggested that Newcastle United and Sunderland deserved more expansive media coverage. He questioned why the north-east's "big two", with their magnificent grounds, huge crowds and enormous fanbases, were consistently squeezed off the back pages by the Manchester, London and, to a lesser extent, Merseyside clubs.
Newcastle's manager had a valid point; a widespread ignorance of the region was highlighted when, some years ago, a senior national newspaper sports desk executive visited Sunderland and, startled by the sight of sandy beaches, admitted he had not realised the city was situated beside the North Sea.
One thing London-based editors have traditionally been keen on, though, are north-east "crisis" stories and, down the years Newcastle, especially, have frequently obliged. So it was that Pardew soon had reason to wish his club would disappear from the headlines as the team slid inexorably towards a relegation skirmish and he angrily rebutted reports of dressing-room splits.
As Sunderland flatlined under Martin O'Neill national interest remained modest but the appointment of Paolo Di Canio and immediate resignation of David Miliband as the club's vice-chairman over the new manger's perceived fascist sympathies soon changed all that.
For a few days Sunderland were a hot topic but then Di Canio distanced himself from fascism, the news hounds grew bored and a relegation struggle resumed. Courtesy of fine wins at Newcastle, by 3-0, and at home to Everton, Sunderland survived but the team should never have been depending on Wigan to do them a favour. And particularly after the club had spent more than £30m in the past two transfer windows.
Di Canio becomes visibly annoyed, his voice increasing in volume, when he discusses "what has happened at this club in the past five years". Although no one is mentioned by name, he clearly feels Roy Keane, Steve Bruce and O'Neill have much to answer for. "If we were a smaller club or did not have the resources there might be an excuse," Sunderland's manager said. "But the owner [Ellis Short] has put a lot of money into this club in the last few years and it's one of the bigger clubs in the Premier League."
There have been too many poor signings to mention on Wearside in recent seasons and Short's overhaul of the scouting policy – the former chief scout Bryan "Pop" Robson has been dismissed and his network dismantled – is likely to include the imminent appointment of Roberto De Fanti as Sunderland's director of football. A registered Fifa agent, De Fanti, whose clients include the Holland midfielder Nigel de Jong, is a consultant at the Stadium of Light.
Meanwhile Di Canio and his all-Italian support staff will devote pre-season to repairing what the manager dubs the squad's "weak mentality" and lack of physical fitness. Di Canio has claimed "the environment was dead" when he succeeded O'Neill with the dressing room divided into "little groups", declaring it "a miracle" that the team have taken eight points from his six games in charge.
There is clearly a lot of work to do this summer but whether Sunderland will partly finance another spending spree but sell their highly rated Belgium goalkeeper Simon Mignolet and perhaps their coveted Benin schemer, Stéphane Sessègnon, remains to be seen. Whatever happens Di Canio requires creativity, pace and enhanced central midfield control.
While the Italian has been happy to discuss his dressing room's sometimes awkward chemistry before revealing – albeit half-jokingly – that his young striker Connor Wickham could benefit "from having his face slapped a little bit" when his mind wanders, the more conventional Pardew is not quite as candid. Newcastle's failure to build on last season's fifth place finish has been a huge disappointment but, whereas Pardew was lucky with injuries in 2011-12, this term fortune has frowned with the treatment rooms frequently overflowing.
Mike Ashley's blueprint, whereby signings sourced by the excellent chief scout, Graham Carr, are almost all aged 26 and under and imported from better value markets abroad, invariably France, may make financial sense but it leaves the squad light on experience and Premier League nous. It did not help that the squad was not strengthened last summer and, although five newcomers arrived from France's Ligue 1 in January, they were ultimately hit hard by culture shock.
When Pardew, who seems certain to keep his job, meets Ashley for a postmortem in the next couple of weeks the manager is expected to appeal to be allowed to invest in some Premier League experience. The dressing room, though, will remain largely francophone and, having poured scorn on talk of tense undercurrents – even, unwisely, banning a reporter who raised the issue in print – Newcastle's manager needs to ensure nothing gets lost in translation next season.
Pardew, who is expected to reinforce his backroom with a new, extra coach, could do with also resolving the style issues that at times saw Newcastle top the Premier League charts for the number of long balls unleashed by respective teams. His players have never looked as comfortable or fluent as when they settled into a 4-3-3 formation late last season and there are concerns that the favoured 4-2-3-1 system does not always bring the best out of potentially key individuals such as Moussa Sissoko.
With Fabricio Coloccini, who let his manager down badly by trying to engineer a move back to Argentina in January, likely to leave, Newcastle need at least one new centre-half and two new strikers. They must also hope that a lack of European football does not see a cadre of their better performers, most notably Hatem Ben Arfa, Yohan Cabaye and Tim Krul, lured away from Tyneside.
Yet, like Di Canio, Pardew is a fine coach who does much of his best work on the training ground – when the demands of the Europa League limited his involvement it showed – and, providing he and Ashley learn from this season's debacle, there is no reason why Newcastle should not be a top-eight side this time next spring.
Di Canio remains a relatively unknown quantity but while Short's hitherto inspired gamble could yet end in tears Sunderland's American owner might just have unearthed a rare managerial talent, finally capable of reawakening this most dozy of sleeping giants.
Forty years after Sunderland's 1973 FA Cup final triumph against Leeds United produced the last trophy won by the Tyne-Wear rivals, it is high time they and Newcastle began giving Manchester, London and Merseyside a run for their money.