"It is absolute nonsense. They've done nothing wrong," Sunderland's manager stressed yesterday. "For those players to be labelled is wrong. I've been in football a long time but there seems to be something about this area [the north-east] that rumours go round about different players. We must stop these rumours because it is unfair on the players and their families.
"Trust me, if they had been disciplined or not included for anything other than footballing reasons I would be prepared to tell you about it."