PAOLO Di Canio wants the heartbeat of his new Sunderland side to be English.
The head coach has spent the summer bringing foreign recruits into the Stadium of Light.
But last night he told the Echo that a ball-playing English central midfielder – around which his remodelled side would revolve – was absolutely key to his plans.
And while he still wants to strengthen his options at full-back, maybe even bring in a winger as James McClean heads for the exit, the acquisition of that key player in the middle of the park is his absolute top priority.
“The club is working on the two full-backs, but more important to me is the need to get a key player in central midfield – someone who’s English,” he said.
“He needs to be English, with a physical presence, because we have analysed that that is a need we have.
“English, because he needs to know English football inside out. And also a player with very good quality – because we want to play attractive football which gets good results.”
That sort of player sounds very much like Tottenham Hotspur’s Tom Huddlestone, who, the Echo exclusively revealed in June, was a player Sunderland had made serious inquiries for.
The Black Cats have kept tabs on the England international throughout the summer and the ex-Derby man remains very much at the top of the list.
But, with no breakthrough having been made, Sunderland are also scouting other possible signings who could fulfil that role.
Di Canio says, though, that the success of that pursuit lies is firmly in the hands of the club’s newly appointed director of football Roberto De Fanti and chief scout Valentino Angeloni, rather than his own.
“I hope it can be done,” the head coach added. “I know they are working to make it happen.
“I hope it does, because as head coach I know the process of improvement – how to link the middle of the field with the back four, or the front four.
“Everyone can have their opinion.
“But to me it is clear that we need a real play-maker, with a real identity, and not just a player who can fill in, in that role.”
As well as working on players coming in, the club is working on players going out and Di Canio’s pursuit of the player he outlined above seems to underline that skipper Lee Cattermole no longer has a future at the club.
The former Wigan and Middlesbrough midfielder is among a number of players who were told they could leave at the end of last season but still remain on the books as things stand.
H Fulham, who start the Premier League season with a trip to Sunderland on Saturday week, yesterday completed a season-long loan deal for QPR midfielder Adel Taarabt.
The talented Moroccan said: “This was a difficult decision for me, but at this stage of my career I feel I need to be playing at the top level.”