Charismatic Sunderland boss Paolo Di Canio is rapidly running out of patience with one-time Sheffield Wednesday loanee Connor Wickham.
Di Canio, the former Owls striker, is determined to transform the Black Cats fortunes, having recently succeeded Martin O’Neill at the helm and has spelt out in no uncertain terms what he expects from his squad.
In the last 48 hours, the flamboyant Italian has told Wickham, who enjoyed a loan spell at Hillsborough last season, to improve his attitude and urged the forward to conduct himself in a more professional manner.
It was two years ago Sunderland captured Wickham from Ipswich Town for £8.1 million but he has yet to justify his hefty price tag, scoring just two goals. Now Di Canio is desperate for the 20-year-old to start fulfilling his potential as the Black Cats seek a return on their big investment.
Di Canio has grown frustrated with the youngster in training, claiming he needs to “slap his face” to motivate him.
“Maybe, with this guy, I have to slap his face a little bit,” joked Di Canio. “I’m talking about motivating him in a genuine way because he has so much potential.
“But sometimes he comes in and he seems to be looking around saying, ‘Where am I?’ I want to say, ‘You are on the football pitch, with the grass’.”
Dave Jones, the Owls chief, signed Wickham on a temporary basis in February and the Colchester-born player made an instant impact as he starred in their draw with Derby County.
He struggled to hit top form in the home clashes with Crystal Palace and Nottingham Forest before ending his spell at the South Yorkshire outfit on a high note by hitting the winner in the vital win at Leicester City. Due to a striker shortage, Sunderland did not allow the Owls to extend Wickham’s loan deal. Since returning to the North East, he has featured three times as a substitute. His only start came in Di Canio’s first match in charge when Sunderland were beaten by reigning Champions League winners Chelsea.
“I don’t want him to be missing a couple of games because he is a Playboy model,” added Di Canio. “We are footballers, that is our job.
Wickham is expected to spearhead England’s Under-21 attack at this summer’s European Championships in Israel.