In the current hire ’em and fire ’em culture of football management, it is not uncommon to hear statements of sympathy for managers who have fallen foul of the whims of their club’s owners and found themselves out of work. We will have to play a game of wait and see to establish whether this will happen with Paolo Di Canio, whose short spell in charge of Sunderland AFC came to end earlier today, the first Premier League manager of the new season to lose his job.
Perhaps more than any other manager in the Premier League, Di Canio was one who had to deliver results. His previous political utterances meant that there were a good many who were deeply uncomfortable with his appointment, and this had the effect of meaning the the knives have, for some, been sharpened from the very day that he first arrived at The Stadium of Light. His honeymoon period in charge of the club could barely have started any more positively, beginning with a three-nil win at Newcastle United and a one-nil win at home against Everton, but since then his results have taken a distinctly downward turn. Sunderland held onto their Premier League place at the end of last season, but they club has only won one of its eleven matches since then, and that was against a team from two divisions below them in the League Cup.
This Premier League season has, thus far, been reasonably disastrous for Sunderland so far. The club sits at the foot of the Premier League with only one point from its first five matches of the season, and yesterday afternoon saw another supine capitulation, by three goals to nil at West Bromwich Albion, another club for whom this season hadn’t exactly caught fire until yesterday. As we might have expected from this particular manager, though, results on the pitch may well only be part of the reasons for his early departure from the club. Di Canio has, by all accounts, been working his players exceptionally hard since taking control of the club, and it has been widely reported already that that a massive argument at the club’s training ground on Sunday morning might have been the straw that finally broke the camel’s back for the Sunderland owner Ellis Short.
That the manager should have departed after just five matches of the new season indicates that something at The Stadium of Light has clearly gone very wrong. After all, Di Canio (or, to be a little more precise, the club’s director of football, Roberto De Fanti) brought in fourteen new players during the summer, although the club did lose Stephane Sessegnon and Simon Mignolet, arguably its two most effective performers, during the same period. It’s a considerable investment to make, and looks all the more so when the man who brought these players has himself departed from the club before the end of September. It has, however, also been strongly suggested that Di Canio’s training methods were unpopular with the players, and his apparent habit of deflecting blame onto them after defeats – of which there have been seven in the short period during which he was in charge of the club – seems also to have proved, perhaps unsurprisingly, unpopular with the players themselves.
All of this means, of course, that Sunderland, a club which has been in state of seemingly perpetual near-turbulence for much of this year, are now on the look-out for a new manager, and being the first club in the Premier League this season to get rid of their manager means that there are no immediate stand-out candidates to replace him. The likes of Gus Poyet, Roberto Di Matteo or perhaps even Roberto Mancini, however, might all be considered a step up from a manager who, personal opinions aside, seldom looked as if he was completely cut out to manage in the rarefied atmosphere of the Premier League. It is a fundamental – and whether it is a desirable fundamental is another matter – of modern Premier League football that players have considerably more power than they ever used to have, and highlighting players’ errors in public and pushing them in the manner of a military officer from a badly-scripted comedy film was only going to raise the ire of a group of people who can nowadays remove you from your job.
As with so much related to Di Canio, his departure from the club raises as many questions as it provide answers. Might he, had he been given the required time, have been able to build his unorthodox methods into a system that might have worked in the Premier League? Was the apparent player revolt one borne of frustration at a failing system, from a desire for an easier life, or from a genuine concern at the well-being of the club? How much has Di Canio, a manager with more baggage than most, damaged his reputation over the course of his thirteen match stint in charge of the club and will he get the opportunity to coach at this level again? With the nature of Paolo Di Canio being what it is, it’s difficult to imagine that he will stay silent on the subject over the coming weeks and months. Ellis Short and Sunderland AFC might not have heard the last of him just yet.
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