Paolo Di Canio and Lee Cattermole have reached a rapprochement that has left Sunderland's former captain with a chance to re-establish himself as one of the club's key central midfielders.

Cattermole is close to a first-team return following several months on the sidelines in the wake of knee surgery but, until the transfer window closed, he did not seem part of Di Canio's blueprint and was effectively frozen out.

"We have to be honest, he wasn't in the plan," said Sunderland's manager. "But last week I spoke with him for half an hour. Man to man. I told him to have a future here he had to convince me because my regime is completely different to what he had until last year.

"I told him: 'You have to speak my language on the pitch but if you do this you are welcome, more than welcome. It's important we agree.' But we had a very professional conversation. He was more than positive. I'm happy. Now he's back, he's full of enthusiasm. It can be a new start for him. He can become maybe a much better footballer. Because he's only 25 – he's still young."

Very much part of Sunderland's old guard, Cattermole is no stranger to disciplinary problems on or off the pitch but after a move to another Premier League club collapsed this summer, his options contracted. Meanwhile Di Canio's failure to sign Tom Huddlestone from Tottenham left him short of the strong, British midfielder he had been seeking. In short, he and Cattermole need each other, and might even be good for each other, as Sunderland seek to recover from a disappointing start to the season which has produced one point from four games.

When a Championship club wanted to take Cattermole – who may be on the bench for Saturday's important game at West Bromwich Albion – on loan, Di Canio duly declined the offer.

"I said no, I have to be honest 10 days ago the answer would have been yes, but I need British players. I need the quality, the intensity. I need the fire. I've said to Lee Cattermole show me this character, this quality, this professionalism, this desire, and you will start games.

"I said I know what you feel. I know what you felt. You are upset. It is part of the situation but now you have a big chance. You have one of the most honest managers in the world who tells you you are one of the most important players because it's the truth. But if you train bad or behave badly off the pitch, like you did, I don't know, in the past, you can't stay in the squad. You are intelligent you saw how it was with some players.

"I said now you can be a part of a squad that wants to play good football. You can be better than before. It's up to you. You have to jump. You have to back my regime. I decide the discipline, the behaviour, the rules. But we will be stronger than before.

"Potentially Lee Cattermole's a better player than he maybe even thinks he is. In the last training session I see he can pass the ball. But it's important he works very hard. He has to listen."