Sunderland have made Roberto Di Matteo their No.1 target to replace Paolo Di Canio - but face a battle to persuade the former Chelsea manager to take the job.
Goal understands that Black Cats chiefs have already put out informal feelers to Di Matteo’s camp to inform him of their interest in him taking over at the Stadium of Light.
Formal talks will be scheduled imminently but Sunderland accept they must persuade the 43-year-old that the vacant post would be the right career move.
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The long-serving former skipper and current Sunderland Under-21s manager has been placed in charge of the first team for Tuesday night’s Capital One Cup clash against Peterborough United and is also expected to be in the dugout for Sunday’s home match against Liverpool.
Sunderland sources have told Goal that the board "want to leave a bit of distance" between Di Canio’s reign and the start of the new manager’s tenure, which might not even begin until after the club's home fixture against Manchester United on October 5.
Gus Poyet and Tony Pulis have been among the other names linked to the job but Di Matteo is the favoured candidate of the club’s Italian sporting director Roberto De Fanti.
Di Matteo has been out of work since being sacked as Chelsea manager last November but his stock remains high after winning the Champions League and FA Cup during his eight-month spell at Stamford Bridge.
He is regarded by Sunderland as a steady pair of hands following the abrasive regime of Di Canio, who was sacked on Sunday night with the club bottom of the table following a run of one draw and four defeats from their first five Premier League matches.
However, Di Matteo is understood to have reservations about taking over at a club where there was such a high degree of player turnover during the summer, with 14 new players signed and 13 others sold or released.
After his surprise appointment in place of Martin O’Neill in March, Di Canio made an immediate impact by steering the club away from relegation, but his reign was marked by dressing room unrest and dissatisfaction among his players with his volatile management style.
The tipping point is believed to have been dressing room showdowns in the immediate wake of Saturday’s 3-0 defeat at West Brom, and then again at the training ground on Sunday.
Word got back to the board and, with the club desperate not to get sucked into a relegation battle for the second consecutive season, American owner Ellis Short gave the green light for Di Canio to become the first top-tier managerial casualty of the season.
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