It wasn’t going to be long before Paolo Di Canio found his way back into football management but his appointment at Sunderland will have come as a surprise to many, given the high regard the fans had for exiting boss, Martin O’Neill. It would appear as though Sunderland’s owner, Ellis Short held O’Neill with less favour as he wielded the axe following Saturday’s 1-o defeat to Manchester United. With the club dangling too close to the relegation zone for Short to be comfortable with, O’Neill was dispatched and Di Canio brought in, with the hope that he can save the Black Cats from disaster. A drop to the Championship would spell financial ruin for the club who have for too long-lived beyond their means without punishment. Di Canio has seven games, starting against Chelsea on Sunday to get the points needed to keep them in the Premiership.
Di Canio’s reputation for one of the more entertaining managers in English football comes mostly from his spirited time at Swindon, where the Italian was not afraid to speak his mind. Having taken up the reigns in the summer of 2011 following Swindon’s relegation to League Two, De Canio inspired their revival, getting them back into League One in his first season in charge. Never afraid to speak his mind, Di Canio was a media dream as off field antics often matched the dramatic and charismatic play on it. Only three months into the job, he was involved in a very public spat with striker Leon Clarke who angered Di Canio by arguing with Swindon’s fitness coach Claudio Donatelli. When Di Canio intervened, the two were caught on camera having a heated debate in the tunnel which led to the end of Clarke’s Swindon career. Shipped out on loan almost immediately by the club, Di Canio maintained the clubs integrity by not revealing what was said, rather commenting that Clarke was “not very professional”. After Clarke’s departure, things started to click for the club which went on a run that lead to their promotion. Di Canio’s hands on approach and relationship with his players, often publicly praising them for performances, was credited for the success and helped to elevated Di Canio’s reputation as one of England’s up and coming managers.
But financial troubles at Swindon would ultimately lead to Di Canio’s departure. After months of financial difficulties and staring administration in the face, the club decided to sell star winger Matt Richie to Bournemouth behind Di Canio’s back. It would be the last straw for the fiery Italian who resigned weeks later, citing broken promises as the principle reason. He did return to Swindon a few days later, but not in an official capacity, breaking in during the middle of the night with one of his assistants to take back some possessions that he had left in his office. The club decided not to report him to the police or press charges but did leak the story to the press for no reason other than to shame Di Canio. This action would not be enough to deter Short and Sunderland who saw Di Canio as the perfect candidate to spark a Sunderland revolution. It would appear though that Di Canio’s past has sparked some controversy with MP David Milliband deciding to leave his position on the Sunderland board in protest due to Di Canio’s past history and views around fascism and racism.
Milliband has accused Di Canio of making statements of a political nature, directly linked to Italian dictator Mussolini, but the club and Di Canio have been quick to squash them. Yes Di Canio has outright and outspoken views around the dictator calling him “a very principled ethical individual who was deeply misunderstood” but links to fascist movements have been wide of the mark. Di Canio is more annoyed by the allegations of racist views he is suppose to have following a celebration and hand gesture he did during a 2005 Lazio match which some say was aimed at the clubs right-wing fans. Di Canio denies wrong doing and insists he isn’t a racist citing that his best friends in football – Trevor Sinclair and Chris Powell are both black and have never had a single issue with him. Milliband’s decision may have been caused more by his pending move to New York where he is due to take up a dream role as head of a charity but it comes at the worst time for Sunderland who are trying desperately to get their season back on track.
Di Canio knows that if he can encourage his new players to work with him until the end of the season and get the points needed to stay in the league, he will be able to start a fresh in the summer and really rebuild. With money to spend and some quality players already at his disposal, Di Canio will be looking forward to proving that his time with Swindon was not a fluke and that he really can be a top class manager. But before he can do that he needs to secure enough points in the last seven games to keep them safe. With no easy games to come, including trips to Chelsea, Newcastle and Everton it is really sink or swim time for the fiery italian coach. Sunderland fans will be praying that he has an immediate effect on the players and that he can secure premiership football for next season.