Paolo Di Canio may be facing criticism from many quarters for Sunderland's inept performances so far this season, but he did not show he was under pressure at all when he turned out as a late call-up for Steve Harper's testimonial on Wednesday night. The Italian would have surely known he was putting himself in the firing line to receive the wrath of most of the 50,793 fans who packed St James' Park. This especially after presiding over the historic 0-3 drubbing in April, but he must earn the respect of everyone by the way he took the vehement abuse in such good spirits.
The testimonial between Newcastle Legends and an AC Milan Glorie team saw a host of superstars, including the likes Alan Shearer, Tino Asprilla and Shay Given on the one side and Franco Baresi and Paolo Maldini among many on the other. It was a praiseworthy charitable event. But the loudest boos, described as the most deafening since last season's 6-0 defeat by Liverpool, were reserved for the entrance of Sunderland's head coach, who instead of being intimidated, lapped it up, blowing kisses to each corner of the ground.
The match was reported to be remarkably competitive with Di Canio providing much of the entertainment and the partisan crowd baying for his blood every time he touched the ball. But as the villain of the party-piece, he lapped it all up with smiles, even when upended in a tackle by Joey Barton of all people. In one pantomime incident, he even turned tables by showing the referee a red card.
Throughout the match, the Italian showed that he still had a touch of class but saved the best till last when the game ended 0-0. Much to the disgruntled Magpie fans, he stole the show finale in the ensuing shoot-out when he exquisitely scored the decisive penalty by coolly placing the ball in the corner of the goal. His display proved to be an example to all, including himself and his Sunderland players.
Yet it is difficult to equate his performance on such alien territory with much of his perceived image as a maverick at best. There were none of the knee-jerk reactions that he has commonly displayed when standing on the touchline as head coach or in some of his questionable selections and substitutions that have earned him the daunting title as nothing more than a head-banger.
Di Canio for sure is his own man with his own egotistical problems. He is a passionate showman with a style of fashion. But he also has very limited experience of coaching especially in the Premier League despite gaining his EUFA pro licence badges, apparently with flying colours and spending 20 months in the lower reaches at Swindon.
Tactically, he is certainly on a learning curve but maybe he is making progress over his temperament. Let us also hope it will help in both training sessions and on the playing field with his lack of man-management too. He certainly wants to be a winner and develop his career in coaching to the top but needs to address some of eccentricities in at least dealing with players if he is ever to be truly successful.