• Manager admits some players have poor English
• Pleads with foreign speakers to learn 'key words'
Paolo Di Canio delights in planning detailed training sessions and discussing tactical intricacies but Sunderland's manager currently finds himself reduced to teaching his players basic vocabulary.
After the arrival of 14 signings this summer, 13 of them foreign, fluency in English has become a precious commodity at the Stadium of Light.
"It's driving me crazy," said Di Canio, whose side's haul of one point from three Premier League games is largely attributable to defensive howlers prompted by poor communication, undermining some pleasing overall play.
"Every single training session I spend five minutes on this [vocabulary]," he acknowledged. "Every session you can see that everything is going OK, then when we practise something, there's a misunderstanding. A British player says: 'You squeeze up,' and the French player or the Italian can't understand. I stop the session. I tell them to learn five key words that are for the back four – squeeze up, cover, drop, hold. If they say a key word in a foreign language I stop.
"You have to fight with these things every day. But squeeze is difficult. 'Forget squeeze,' I say. 'Just use 'up'. Don't use squeeze, it's difficult, up is enough. I have had training sessions for two months, still I see players getting confused."
Eventually Di Canio hopes to extend the imports' vocabulary to 20 key words but, as they prepare for Arsenal's visit to Wearside on Saturday, Sunderland are still taking baby steps.
"I can help but I can't become a schoolteacher for the foreign players every single moment," he said. "They have decided to come to England so they have to speak English.
"If you're intelligent, you have to think: 'One day I will learn five or 10 key words for the match.' It takes five minutes and it's their responsibility to learn – on the training field, in the shower, in the bed, wherever they want.
"When we gel together, speak more English, we're going to be OK. What we miss now is only to avoid a few mistakes that most of the time come from not communicating. We have good quality in the squad, many options, but communication can be the biggest problem."
Di Canio attempted to avert it by asking his board to buy at least partly British this summer but Sunderland were priced out of the domestic market. "I asked for more British players," he said.
"But it didn't happen for some reason, I don't point my finger at anyone. I know it was impossible. One British midfielder we were asked £11m for.
"A normal player, good British but £11m is not possible. He's not a top-class footballer. This can be a problem. Everyone has to understand we have to be responsible."
Sunderland also inquired about James McCarthy, who eventually left Wigan for Everton. "We went, for example, for a player who played for a team relegated into the Championship," said Di Canio. "They asked for £12m for a player who, with all respect, is a very good player but not for this money."
This refusal to pay over the odds has turned the Italian into a kindergarten English teacher but, despite his early season travails, he remains intensely optimistic. "Forget the top six but we're going to be one of the best of the other Premier League teams in terms of playing football, it's for sure," predicted a manager who has turned down a loan move from a Championship club for Lee Cattermole. Once Cattermole is fully fit Di Canio intends to offer Sunderland's hitherto frozen out former captain a chance to re-establish himself in midfield.
"Not tomorrow, not the day after but in a few weeks' time you're going to see the team playing more effectively. We're going to play better and better and better. By December we will be nearly in the middle of the table. I'm sure about that. In December, January, February we will win many games and take off."