Time finally ran out on Paolo Di Canio’s spell as Sunderland manager yesterday as the controversial Italian was sacked under the strangest of conditions. After a disastrous start to the new season, Di Canio put himself in the firing line by confronting the travelling Sunderland fans following their 3-0 defeat to West Bromwich Albion. The Italian, who had been heckled throughout the match by the Black Cats faithful, approached the travelling support at the end of the game. Standing on the edge of the eighteen yard line, far enough away to avoid the more confrontational sections of the fans, Di Canio proceeded to gesture to the fans as if to say “Calm down, it’s my fault but keep your chins up”. In a move meant to heal the growing rift between the fans and the manager, Di Canio’s actions infuriated the away crowd and it appears owner Ellis Short, who hauled the Italian before the board shortly after the match to tell him of his fate.
Realistically it was only a matter of time before Di Canio was relieved of his duties following a somewhat stormy summer. Having heavily criticized a majority of his team at the end of last season much to their dismay, Di Canio and the club’s director of football Roberto De Fanti and chief scout Valentino Angeloni spent the summer overhauling the first team, signing an amazing fourteen new players whilst letting thirteen players (including one of last year’s stand out’s Stephane Sessegnon) depart. This was never going to be a good move regardless of the quality of players that he brought in. It takes time for players to gel; get used to their new surroundings and in many cases a new language. Of the fourteen Di Canio purchased, only four players spoke English fluently and a further two had enough to get by. Pre season was somewhat shambolic with rumours from inside the camp that Di Canio had lost the dressing room due to his aggressive tone and critical opinions of certain players.
Results on the pitch this season have backed up that claim as the Sunderland team looked lost at sea during most of their first five games. Employing a central midfielder at right back, whilst one of the team’s better defenders sat on the bench didn’t sit well with some sections of the Sunderland fans as they faced up to Fulham on day one. Jack Colback did try his hardest but was caught out of position several times and ran ragged by experienced winger Damien Duff. In the next match, Colback was converted to left back where he has stayed for the last four games of Di Canio’s rein but has never looked completely comfortable. Similarly the deployment of Adam Johnson, a left winger on the right against West Brom, presumably to cut inside looked flawed especially against former teammate Scott Sinclair who knows about Johnson’s capabilities and moves. Surely putting the pacey winger up against the rather slow Billy Jones on his natural left side would have been more beneficial to Sunderland? But Di Canio’s decisions have never been quite understood as the manager tinkered with his team on a too frequent basis. With only a single point from the first five games and matches against Liverpool, Manchester United and Newcastle up next, Sunderland had to act now to save their season.
Speculation is already mounting around who will replace Di Canio with three names – Gus Poyet, Roberto Di Matteo and Neil Lennon – already been installed as front runners. Short will likely take his time on the appointment after been criticized by sections of the Sunderland fans for rushing in the hiring of Di Canio. Whilst no clear long term strategy appears to existing at Sunderland, Short will be keen to find someone who can unite the club with its bewildered fans once more. The appointment of Di Canio was a massive gamble, given the Italians controversial man management style so Short will be cautious in his approach with what will be his fifth managerial appointment during his time in charge. There is still enough time and points left in the season for someone to turn Sunderland’s fortunes around and reach the relative comfort of mid table, which given last season’s brush with relegation, would be much welcomed by the Sunderland faithful.
The future for Di Canio however looks less rosy and it’s unlikely that we will see him return to management in England anytime soon, at least not in the Premiership. Di Canio was his own worst enemy, with a prehistoric managerial style that is more fitting the 1980’s than modern football. Di Canio is by no means a bad manager (results during his spell as Swindon boss have shown this) but he will need to soften his approach, especially with the pampered footballers of today who have more power and influence than ever before, if he is to get back into the game. It’s more likely that Di Canio will return to Italy to reflect on his troublesome spell in England’s top division. He will take stock, look at what went wrong (at least in his eyes) and make a return to football in some capacity in the near future.