Sunderland star Jermain Defoe explains how former West Ham teammate Paolo Di Canio continues to inspire him

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The 33-year-old was a youngster coming through at the Boleyn Ground when the Italian was the Hammers' talisman.

Sunderland striker Jermain Defoe has suggested that the way that Paolo Di Canio used to conduct himself while the pair were at West Ham together is the inspiration behind his longevity, the Shields Gazette reports.

Despite heading into the twilight of his career, the 33-year-old is leading the Black Cats' charge for Premier League survival. He has scored 13 goals in the top flight this season, which leaves him nine strikes clear of the club's next highest scorer.

And he explained how coming through the youth ranks at the Boleyn Ground while the Italian was enjoying the best days of his career helped set him on the right path.

"Di Canio was unbelievable, he was proper professional," he told the Shields Gazette.

"I remember being in the youth team at West Ham and you'd be training and then see Di Canio in on his day off.

"He was the only one who was in and then on a Saturday, he was the best player.

"That always stuck with me. As a young lad, I realised that was no coincidence because this guy did all the right things – gym, nutrition, extra training."

Like Defoe appears to be trying to do with Sam Allardyce's squad, Di Canio often inspired the Hammers by producing moments of undeniable quality.

And while the former Sheffield Wednesday man - who enjoyed a spell as manager at the Stadium of Light - was unable to save the Irons when they were facing relegation back in 2003, Defoe will be hoping that the lessons that he learned from his mentor will help Sunderland maintain their current position outside the bottom three once the curtain comes down on this season.

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