These are strange times for Sunderland supporters. No longer are they waking up to discover which Manchester United cast-off will be making his way to the Stadium of Light. Instead it's a Cape Verde international from Switzerland and an American arrival from the Eredivisie; Swedish youngsters and Serie A title winners. Of course, the now customary Tom Huddlestone rumours persist but it wouldn't be summer without them.
Yes, Paolo Di Canio's arrival has injected more than a frisson of excitement at a club he claimed was "dead" when he turned up. New signing Cabral was on message in his opening address to fans earlier this month. "The coach is outstanding," he said. "First he was a big player, now a great coach. He gives everything for the team. I like the coach. He is passionate and always wanting the team to do better."
Di Canio has been busy trying to do just that. With Emanuele Giaccherini confirmed and Gino Peruzzi reportedly on his way - senior internationals for Italy and Argentina respectively - the transformation appears extraordinary. And yet, while even the more pessimistic fans are allowing themselves to be impressed by this exotic list of names, former player and chairman Niall Quinn is urging caution.
"He's got his own thoughts and ideas," Quinn told Sky Sports. "He's got a whole lot of people in and around him who are bringing a whole different way of life to the club. As somebody who spent so much time at the club as a player and a chairman, I really hope that it works out for him. But he's got a lot of players with very little experience of the Premier League and I think it might prove tough for him. He's already come out and criticised some of the players that he has now and you might see more players moving on... It's going to be a difficult year."
With a vested interest in the legacy of the previous regimes, Quinn's views might be dismissed by some, but others are speaking out too. Outgoing defender Titus Bramble was scathing in his assessment of Di Canio. "He's a young manager trying to stamp his mark on things, but he's making some big mistakes," Bramble told the Telegraph. "He's targeted the easy players, the ones who are leaving anyway, trying to show he's the boss." He added: "There are a lot of strong characters in that Sunderland dressing room and he is upsetting them. It isn't just those who are leaving."
Of course, the implied assumption in Bramble's words is that to upset the senior figures in the Sunderland dressing room is something to be avoided, but that becomes less of an issue if a complete overhaul is planned. And if the accusations of ill-discipline and poor fitness are true then shaking things up with overpaid footballers always plays well in a blue-collar city.
|Chances created - PL 2012/13|
Moreover, even if one agrees with Quinn that Di Canio's policy represents a risky one, it is worth noting that the safety-first policy of his predecessors was not looking very safe. No team in the Premier League had fewer shots or created fewer chances than Sunderland last season as they finished just one spot above the drop zone. As Seb Larsson put it: "We get a bit tentative and a bit nervous and we end up not creating anything at all." As such, it's more than an appetite for change on Wearside, it's a necessity.
The signing of Giaccherini could prove pivotal in this regard. James McClean endured a difficult second season on the left flank and the Italian offers a more subtle threat than the traditional winger, having frequently been used in a more central role. Indeed, despite enduring a bit-part role at Juventus last season, the 28-year-old created a chance more regularly than any other Bianconeri player - including the great Andrea Pirlo.
|Creativity at Juventus - Serie A 2012/13|
|Player||Mins per chance created|
Cabral could also prove a significant acquisition. The 24-year-old signing from Basel made more tackles than any other player in last season's Europa League and would appear to be someone unlikely to be fazed by the transition to the Premier League. Jozy Altidore also has the physical presence to thrive and after netting 23 league goals in Holland last season is a much-improved player from the teenager who first arrived at Hull City for a loan spell back in 2009.
Given the depth of these changes, Di Canio is likely to be judged on his work in the transfer market. However, he is also widely regarded as a tactically strong coach and the real challenge might be to forge this disparate group into a cohesive team. In this regard, Sunderland fans might be buoyed by praise from an unlikely source. That man Bramble. "He's a good coach on the training pitch," admitted the centre-back. "Everything is so detailed. He's one of the best I've played for in that respect."
When even his critics are offering grudging praise, perhaps there is more cause for optimism regarding Di Canio's overhaul than some would have us believe.