Top five: Sunderland managerial candidates

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When Sunderland sacked Paolo Di Canio after just 13 games in charge on 23 September, it provided the north-east club with several problems.

Lying bottom of the table with just one point from five games was one of them, but turning their back on a manager who was allowed to invest heavily over the summer just five games into the new Premier League season was arguably the biggest issue.

Although the enigmatic Italian had a tendency to turn the limelight onto himself, and his dismissal was the result of a rumoured player revolt, it was not the treatment befitting of a man who came in and prevented a seemingly inevitable landslide to the Championship last season. The same man who went to St. James' Park and watched his side win 3-0 in their arch rivals back yard. 

But football is a cruel game for managers, and for the next permanent name through the door at the Stadium of Light has the task of not only steering the side away from the foot of the table, but getting a squad overhauled this summer, to gel in the process.

Here is a look at the five frontrunners for the job:

1. Gus Poyet - Unattached. Odds: 4/9 (Favourite)

Gus Poyet's departure at Brighton at the end of last season threatened to undermine all the good work that the former Chelsea and Tottenham midfielder had done at the Seagulls during his near four-year spell at the club.

The Uruguayan had turned Brighton into one of the most stylish outfits outside of the Premier League, providing fans a side made of both substance and flair, with his reign starting with steering Brighton away from the League One relegation zone, and ending with a Championship play-off defeat to Crystal Palace at the end of last season.

Seemingly Poyet felt he had gone as far as he could in the position, and reportedly told his players just that, which led to his unsavoury departure from the club.

A manager with ambition and a solid start to his managerial career, sounds exactly like the former manager Di Canio, but expect a more humble and less outspoken approach if Poyet is successful. Many reports suggest it is all but signed, that Poyet is next in the hotseat, but with Kevin Ball in charge for another weekend, things could change. 

2. Rene Meulensteen - Unattached. Odds: 10/1

Many Manchester United fans were disappointed to hear of the departure of Rene Meulensteen following the arrival of David Moyes and his own staff following the reign of Sir Alex Ferguson.

What has followed for Meulensteen since then has been far away from the smooth running and success of his time as United's first-team coach. Shortly following his arrival as Guus Hiddink's assistant coach at Anzhi Makhachkala, the Dutchman replaced his compatriot following Hiddink's resignation, to be sacked just 16 days later by owner Suleman Kerimov, as the Russian attempted to undo all his big spending due to lack of instant success.

A world-class coach, the Dutchman has not yet cut his teeth into the world of management, with short spells in Qatar and Brondby his only experience.

Would certainly improve Sunderland on the training ground, but may lack the managerial presence in the dugout.

3. Kevin Ball - Sunderland Caretaker Manager. Odds: 10/1

The man currently minding the Sunderland hotseat, Ball is no stranger to the position of caretaker.

Following the dismissal of Mick McCarthy in 2006, Ball stepped in for the remaining 10 games of a poor season for the club, before throwing his hat into contention for the job permanently, only to be ruled out by Niall Quinn's desire for a world-class manager.

Given the job again, Ball has the same ambition - but expect the same outcome.

However, Ball knows the club inside out, spending the vast majority of his playing career, and almost all of his non-playing career at the club, there would be far more unpopular choices than the former Mackem.

Given the reigns for two games already, a third game against Manchester United has also been given to Ball to take charge of. If a manager has not been named by then already, Ball could do his chances no harm with a result against the champions.

4. Gianfranco Zola - Watford. Odds: 12/1

The smiling Italian has become a fan favourite at current club Watford, falling just short of promotion last season. The former Chelsea midfielder looks set to make another charge with his Watford side to reach the heights of the Premier League. A move to Sunderland could provide that platform for Zola.

With Premier League experience behind him, Zola was a popular man at West Ham too, before his dismissal in 2010. A likeable figure amongst most football fans, the Italian would almost certainly be a popular choice with the Sunderland fans.

The fact he is Italian could also be of benefit, a possibility to continue the work Di Canio set upon but with less outrageousness, it could also provide marquee summer signing Emanuele Giaccherini a figurehead compatriot to truly settle in to English life.

Zola himself, however, has distanced himself from the position, seemingly happy to continue what he was doing at Watford, which makes it highly likely Zola won't be moving up north in the near future. 

5. Murat Yakin - Basel. Odds: 14/1

One half of the Yakin brothers, Murat Yakin is arguably the most managerially experienced out of the five frontrunners, having been manager of three Swiss teams in the past four years.

Although he may be somewhat the unknown name thrown into the hat, Yakin comes with his credentials. Taking over from Heiko Vogel during the 2012/13 season, Yakin managed to guide Basel to their 16th Swiss league title, and so far in the new league season, Basel sit top again.

The transition in both style and quality to the Premier League is arguably the biggest risk to Yakin's chances, but the former Swiss international has faced challenges from Premier League opposition, and has done his reputation no harm; defeating Tottenham in the Europa League quarter-finals last season, then initially taking charge in the Europa League semi-final second leg against Chelsea, before falling 5-2 on aggregate.

A move to the Premier League could one day materialise for Yakin, but expect the Basel manager to fall short this time round. 

There are other names with further odds that could also be of some interest to Sunderland fans. Tony Pulis, despite his long-ball reputation, is definitely a man who could stabilise their season. He is priced at around 20/1, the same price as the early favourite Roberto Di Matteo, a man with a Champions League winners' medal as a manager has seemingly distanced himself from the position, with reports he is 'unconvinced' at the job.

But all the odds seemingly point in the way of Gus Poyet, a manager who has certainly earned an opportunity at the top level.

With 33 games to go, the Uruguayan would have time to put it right, but would also need to hit the ground running or risk losing huge ground to the teams above them. Despite the other three frontrunners, it looks as though it will be only Kevin Ball who offers a serious challenge to Poyet's inevitable arrival, but with United next in the league, Ball may not get the chance to lay any more serious contention to the top job. 

For all of Di Canio's live-wire entertainment, Sunderland need stability or they could once again face another mass exodus of players this summer. This time however, to drop their wage bill for life in the second tier.  

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