Phil Bardsley probably does not realise it but he has done Paolo Di Canio the most enormous favour.
By allowing himself to be pictured lying on the floor of a casino, his body strewn with £50 notes, Sunderland's right-back emphasised the importance of implementing what his new manager terms "the revolution in the brain" urgently required at the Stadium of Light.
As a striker Di Canio was never the type to fail to capitalise on a slapdash backpass and, sure enough, he pounced on Bardsley's shocker and smashed it, first time, into the top corner.
If Ellis Short, Sunderland's owner, needed any further convincing of the need to rip up and rebuild the first team squad, Di Canio supplied it courtesy of a 24-minute diatribe denouncing an "arrogant and ignorant" culture among the club's senior professionals following Sunday's 1-0 defeat at Tottenham Hotspur.
Although it would be an exaggeration to say the unspoken subtext was "back me or sack me", this very public exposure of Sunderland's dirty washing arguably leaves Short contemplating a rather more radical revamp than perhaps originally envisaged.
The message from Wearside on Monday was that Martin O'Neill's successor has received the board's full backing. Anything less would have been a shock. Di Canio's Italian-accented delivery may be dramatic but his words amount to simple common sense. Moreover, they are often laced with a sense of humour that suggests the 44-year-old may not be the unbending dictator of popular caricature.
The Professional Footballers' Association has become involved in mediation with players upset by some of the fines imposed by Di Canio for assorted transgressions, including forgetting to attend weekly charity shirt-signing sessions, arriving late for team meetings, shunning afternoon treatment from physiotherapists, calling in sick but avoiding the club doctor's calls, and appearing hungover at training.
Clarke Carlisle, the PFA chairman, has defended his union's role in arranging player representation and ensuring "protocols" were adhered to, but on Monday he slated Bardsley's behaviour, condemning it as "distasteful and inappropriate".
The PFA chief executive, Gordon Taylor, though, has issued a warning to Di Canio: "He cannot be a law unto himself. We are aware of player unrest at some comments made publicly, and other situations. No club is a law unto itself. The rules are agreed. Paolo benefited from the same rules when he was a player and a member of the PFA.
"A number of players are involved. I don't want to be confrontational but we expect him, and Sunderland as members of the Premier League, to abide by the rules agreed along with the PFA, and FA."
Last week Di Canio revealed that he had issued seven fines in the preceding days and seemed particularly annoyed by players' reluctance to sign shirts.
Like many managers, O'Neill and his predecessor, Steve Bruce, tried to avoid criticising first-team players in front of the media but Di Canio remains undaunted by risking dressing-room revolt and believes the gamble involved in highlighting unprofessional habits – and there have been rumours of a "drinking culture" among Sunderland's predominantly British/Irish squad for some time – will ultimately strengthen his position.
It helps Di Canio that Matthew Kilgallon – Bardsley's partner at the casino where the pair ended up after a squad meal last Wednesday to mark Sunderland's escape from relegation – is out of contract next month.
Bardsley has another year left on his deal understood to be worth £30,000 a week so, as with other unwanted members of Sunderland's expensively assembled squad, it may not be easy to move him on.
Roberto De Fanti, a Fifa-registered agent, should shortly be confirmed as the club's director of football and will be responsible for endeavouring to export those surplus to requirements while also importing at least six new players.
With Short having recently dismissed Bryan "Pop" Robson, Sunderland's former chief scout, and dismantled his talent-spotting network before introducing new recruitment strategies, it remains to be seen if funds will be generated by the sale of the team's outstanding individual, Simon Mignolet, the Belgium goalkeeper.
Two men unlikely to be going anywhere are Jack Colback and John O'Shea. The warmth in Di Canio's voice whenever he mentions "Jack" and "John" suggests the versatile full-back or midfielder and the former Manchester United defender are fully paid-up subscribers to his philosophy and can play key dressing-room roles in winning over hearts and minds.
Colback in particular has blossomed in recent weeks while O'Shea has suggested that life on Wearside is now no stricter than anything he experienced under Sir Alex Ferguson at United.
After attending a sponsor's event on Monday and undergoing fitness assessments, Di Canio's players – some of whom were forced to cancel plans to fly abroad from London on Sunday – will shortly disperse for the summer holidays.
Sunderland fans must wait to see how many of the squad board the team's flight for a tournament in Hong Kong at the end of July.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
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