Paolo Di Canio has said he does not manage by fear, though he admits his players do not have to love him. The Sunderland manager has dramatically overhauled the club since replacing Martin O'Neill in late March, moving out 10 players while recruiting nine this summer, completely changing his backroom staff and focusing on improving the fitness of his squad.
Yet despite the Italian's fierce determination to succeed and an approach that brooks little argument, he said that it is not healthy for his players to be even slightly scared of him. "No, they cannot fear me, the manager, it is not possible. I don't kick the players," he said. "Possibly people worry about playing under me because we train in a different way to other clubs because we have an ambition to improve.
"No, they are not worried because of this legend that I am going to fight with them. Obviously they don't love me. I told them I don't want them to love me. As long as they perform for me they will be OK. So we have this pact.
"At times they will drive me crazy and at other times they will be angry with me. It is like a family. Sometimes one of the sons or daughters goes far away from the right road and then I pick them back up. It can be a difficult situation. My job is to make them improve. I would love them to improve."
Adam Johnson confirmed that his colleagues do not fear the manager. "I don't think the lads feel that way," the winger said. "Obviously when we are on the training pitch we know what the gaffer wants form us. We work hard and then everyone has a laugh. When we train he wants us to give it our full attention for the full training session in order to improve us as a team and individuals. So it is not really fear. It is about buckling down to the hard work that he demands from us."
Johnson has also played under Di Canio's countrymen, Fabio Capello and Roberto Mancini for England and Manchester City respectively, said of any similarities between the three: "Obviously there are similar things. Some training techniques were pretty similar with Roberto. I worked under Capello as well and his training techniques were similar. But every manager I have worked with has a different way of man-managing.
"I think that is the key to working with them [the Italians]. They work differently to what we have been used to in the past. They concentrate more on the tactical side of the game. It is not just about training and going out and playing free football with them, it is about tactics as well: getting your shape right so you don't concede goals – and that is what I have learned off the previous two Italian managers."
Di Canio is pleased his side defeated Tottenham Hotspur 3-1 in Wednesday's Asia Trophy semi-final to face Manchester City in Saturday's final but believes his side can improve as their fitness levels do. "I wouldn't say we were sharp but we showed a lot of running and looked the stronger side in the second half on Wednesday," he said.
Of gelling so many new players together Di Canio said: "I'm very happy with the way it is going so far because I have found an intelligent group of players. It is difficult sometimes because we are in a period of transition but thanks to the lads for the work they are putting in. This is an important period because some of the players from abroad have got to understand the mentality here. At the moment from what I can see we are fine."