The Italian departed after just 13 games at the helm in September last year, with morale at the club shattered following a disastrous start to the season.
By the time Gus Poyet replaced him, the Black Cats had collected just a single point from their opening seven Barclays Premier League games, and although it has been far from plain sailing since, the Uruguayan has sparked a significant recovery.
Sunderland will entertain Southampton on Saturday having dragged themselves off the foot of the table and to within a point of safety, although what has happened behind the scenes has been just as important.
Phil Bardsley: "You have got to have a very good team spirit. I think that was beyond dead six months ago. Now we have dug it out.
"The manager came in and gave the players a new lease of life, and everyone is taking their opportunity. That's what you need week in, week out because there's decent competition at the club.
"When I came in, the team only had one point, but now we are on the way to getting out of it."