With the reign of Gus Poyet well underway, albeit (hopefully) not in its hay day, it would only be customary to review the rabble which he succeeded. Paolo Di Canio’s short yet radical period in charge of Sunderland definitely brought with it massive change – as the Italian promised - in the club's philosophy and how it was ran. Opinion on Di Canio, however, has much divided us fans ever since his name was mentioned in relation to the vacant post all the way back in April. There are ways in which his management aided the club and those which contributed heavily to the current, unsavoury situation…
5 Good Things About Paolo Di Canio’s Reign:
1) Improving Fitness
Ignoring how he did it, Di Canio and his fitness guru Claudio Donatelli achieved a level of fitness which eclipsed that of previous spells and provided Poyet with one good platform from which to work. These fitness levels were evident in the pre-season game against Tottenham, as the team kept up an optimum level of performance and minimal signs of fatigue despite awful conditions. A drop in stamina was visible to all a few weeks after the sacking of the Italian as we put in a fairly limp second half showing against Manchester United after leading at the break.
2) Clearing Some ‘Dead Wood'
Matt Kilgallon, Titus Bramble, James McClean. Amongst others, these men’s unimpressive spells at the club came to a relieving end in the frantic summer. We can now look at our bench and almost feel confident. Almost…
3) Signing Young Players
Okay, so many will argue it was higher authority that found players. Some will suggest Di Canio gave them targets, they got him players. The reality is, none of us really have a clue how players came to be at the club this summer. Preceding on the assumption that he had a hand in the recruitment process, praise is due for bringing a number of young players onto Wearside. Instead of spunking half the budget on Connor Wickham or bringing in promising loanees we’re only going to rue the later loss of, the window brought a variety of foreigners who we can look forward to seeing on the first team but wouldn’t be at a great loss to see their talent failing to blossom.
4) Shaking the Evertonian Monkey Off our Back
When many hear the above phrase, they will immediately think of the man we previously thought of as a scouser dressed in blue. However, an unsavoury and condemning record held before Di Canio was the horrible winless streak against Everton. It may be the only league victory at the Stadium of Light in Di Canio’s reign, but it ended a stat which BBC pulled out every time we met the Toffees as well as being crucial in retaining Premier League status.
5) Newcastle 0-3 Sunderland
Obviously. Not much needs to be said about this but the image of Paolo Di Canio standing proud, holding three fingers in the air will forever live on in the fondest memories of Sunderland AFC. For this reason alone, the man should always be welcome in one part of the North East and vilified in another.
And 5 Not So Good Things:
1) Losing the Confidence of Players
He’s quite possibly the coolest player in the team (not least due to the departure of Stephane Sessegnon), but Steven Fletcher’s interview trumped much tabloid conjection to really put a finger on the problems created within the Academy of Light. “To be scared to say anything in case the manager had a crack at you, it's not nice is it? It was intimidating." Were the words quoted by The Guardian. There is no doubt that footballers often need to realise how fortunate they are and get their heads down, but the attitude described by Fletch is one that fails to promote teamwork, enjoyment or even freedom. Having been coached by Martin O’Neill, one of the nicest guys in football, prior to Di Canio, this must have been an uncomfortable change in the lives of the team.
2) Selling Sess
Throughout the summer, the status of Stephane Sessegnon fluctuated a lot. First he was going to the Middle East, then he was totally happy, and then he committed a silly driving offence and was sold. On deadline day. To West Brom. Even without taking into account the goal he put past Keiren Westwood on his Baggies debut, Sess never should have been let go of. A large wage he may have been on, but he scored goals which kept us in the division and a combination with Emmanuelle Giaccherini had many hopes put high. To flog a player so endeared to the fans and so elegant on the ball was a major blunder.
3) Abolishing Harmony
Bringing in such an abundance of players of such a variety of nationalities may have added to the depth and given a vast alternation in style, but it wiped out the good core of tight-knit and light-hearted players at the club. I’m not by any means suggesting the players brought in are self-indulgent leeches, but the way Martin O’Neill built up the team – adding a few quality players to improve the team but not ransack it – seemed much more sensible. Furthermore, an inconceivable lack of pragmatism was shown after the West Brom game when saying “They have to have more confrontation, more anger with each other”. Can you expect a team that barely talk to each other to get angry with each other? Doing so would only further destroy the camaraderie.
4) Public Criticism
To be fair, Di Canio regularly directed all of the flak, or as he called it ‘negative energy’, towards himself. But, on the odd occasion, most notoriously after the debacle at Selhurst Park, he pointed his finger at individuals. John O’Shea, described incredibly fondly during the early stages of the Italian’s time in charge, was turned upon after a clumsy challenge led to a red card and penalty which sealed defeat. The fault of O’Shea is unquestionable, but the way it is, it’s us who do the lambasting and Di Canio who put up his hands. He remarkably managed to keep out of hot water with the disciplinary eagles in the FA in his press conferences, but within the club his post-match comments rarely helped the cause.
5) Not Signing Tom Huddlestone
Once again, we can’t totally direct this at Di Canio because Roberto De Fanti probably opted against it. But, having talked about how the club needed ‘a key player in central midfield, someone who's English’, it was to much discontent that Huddlestone joined Hull City days later and we were compensated with the loan signing of Ki Sung-Yeung. But hey, it doesn’t matter, we’ve got Gardner right? £5 million really isn’t that much money for such a secure, experienced Premier League player, and Di Canio should have pushed for Huddlestone to be signed. His arsenal contains many skills which none of our current crop possess.
At the end of the day, the briefness of Paolo Di Canio’s time in charge tells one all that needs to be known about the impact he made. Football is a peculiar game; if we had beaten Fulham on the first day of the season, an outcome which Di Canio did all in his power to achieve, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to suggest that he would still be the Sunderland manager. That’s history though, and that’s Sunderland. It’s just one thing after the other.
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