Paolo Di Canio adopts democratic approach with Sunderland players

• 'I have listened to the opinions of people like John O'Shea'
• Shopping and golf frowned upon under Di Canio

Not content with renouncing fascism, Paolo Di Canio is continuing to turn preconceptions on their heads as he gets to grips with the task of trying to preserve Sunderland's Premier League status.

In his previous job, at Swindon Town, Di Canio adopted a dictatorial approach to management but since succeeding Martin O'Neill at the Stadium of Light on Sunday evening, he seems to have embraced a few democratic principles.

Indeed, on Thursday Sunderland's new manager extolled the virtues of communicating with his squad. "You obviously need to sit down and have a chat with your players," he said. "We have done that. I have had a look at the players, the experienced ones, the young ones, the ones who look confident and the ones who maybe are not confident. We have done tests on them and we have asked them what they feel about what has happened in recent weeks.

"We have carried out intelligence on them and I have listened to the opinions of people like John O'Shea [the former Manchester United defender, currently captaining Sunderland in the absence of the injured Lee Cattermole] and others. I have to have my own ideas but it's important to communicate with players. Sometimes you can do it in a quiet chat, sometimes you need a confrontation, but the players here have been very helpful. They understand the need is for belief and confidence at the moment."

Sunderland, with seven games remaining, have failed to win any of their last eight fixtures and stand a point above the relegation zone ahead of Sunday's trip to Chelsea, and such an approach seems eminently sensible. Di Canio, though, has not entirely discarded the stick in favour of the carrot.

At the Academy of Light his charges have become used to running for at least an hour a day without the ball, working on positioning and team pattern.

They have also been told there will be few, if any, days off between now and the end of the season, while shopping and golf in their spare time is frowned on as a waste of time. Meanwhile, new dietary restrictions have been introduced.

Such developments probably come as no surprise to Trevor Sinclair, whose relationship with Di Canio was cited as evidence that the Italian is not racist. Sinclair, who is black, said the Italian's past claim that he was a fascist – an ideology Di Canio finally distanced himself from via a statement on Sunderland's website on Wednesday when he said "I am not a racist and I do not support the ideology of fascism. I respect everyone" – should be "taken with a pinch of salt".

"We genuinely got on well," said Sinclair, a former winger and West Ham team-mate of Di Canio who, since retiring as a player, has moved to Dubai where he works as a coach . "Paolo's comments should be taken with a pinch of salt because he's as mad as a hatter."

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