Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the resignation of Paolo Di Canio from his position as the manager of Swindon Town has been the amount of time that it took for it to come. There have been mutterings emanating from that particular corner of Wiltshire for some time now this season, a transfer embargo in place for a month from the start of October, the resignation of a chairman and eventually, the sale of a key player during the transfer window and, eventually, the takeover of the club by a new consortium of businessmen. It was two and a half weeks ago that Di Canio stated that he was considering his position. That no agreement could have been reached shortly after the closure of the transfer window has come as as no great surprise, though.
Swindon’s problems away from the pitch this season have come about on account of a familiar foe to the modern game: overspending on players. The introduction of Salary Cost Management Protocol (SCMP) was confirmed at the Football League’s Annual General Meeting in June 2011. These new rules came into force at the start of last season as a pilot, with clubs in League One limited to being able to spend 75% of their annual turnover on wages. This proportion was reduced to 65% for the start of this season and will be reduced further, to 60% of annual turnover, from the start of next season. The Football League’s preferred sanction for breaking these rules is a transfer embargo, for the fairly simple reason that refusing further player registrations tackles the problem whilst being seen to act against those that break the rules in the first place.
Di Canio signed his contract with Swindon Town just a few weeks before these rules were agreed, but Di Canio also signed a new contract with the club upon promotion at the end of last season and it has be said that if you choose to get involved with the professional game in this country, you have to adhere to its rules, no matter whether you agree with them or not. The issues that came to lead to Di Canio’s departure from the club, however, don’t seem to have as much to do with the existence an implementation of these rules. They seem to have more to do with a number of issues relating to goings-on within the club over the last few weeks or so. It was in the middle of October, with the club already under a transfer embargo, that Jeremy Wray, who appointed Di Canio in the first place, was replaced as chairman by Sir William Patey, and it was Patey who seemed to pique the managers ire by confirming at the start of the January transfer window that no money would be available for new players and that new investors would have to be found to prevent the club from falling into administration.
If such comments were an attack of realpolitik that didn’t necessarily make sense to Di Canion, then matters seem to have come to a head at the end of last month with the sale of winger Matt Ritchie to Bournemouth. Ritchie’s sale was, perhaps, the most glaring indicator yet of how precarious Swindon’s position may have become over the last few months. Ritchie was a loan deal permanent, but it had been suggested that he could be on his way from The County Ground for some time, Swindon having been reported to have turned down a £900,000 offer from a League One club for the player last summer. That the same player was sold for only a little over half of an amount of money that the club rejected for him considerably less than a year may say something profound – not to mention somewhat worrying – about the club’s financial position. Di Canio confirmed the following day that he was considering his options, adding that,”if it wasn’t for the players and fans, I would have walked away from this club a long time ago.”
The sale of Swindon Town has not been a completely straightforward one. The new prospective owners of the club, who have been reported as being led by Jed McCrory, currently the chairman of Southern League Premier Division club Banbury United, Martin King, who was a non-shareholding director of Luton Town between 2005 & 2007 who resigned from the board over the sacking of former Luton manager Mike Newell early in 2007, Gary Hooper, a former commercial manager at Queens Park Rangers and Brentford, and “operations specialist” Steve Murrall, who most recently has been – in football terms at least – also last spotted at Banbury United. These new directors are understood to have already passed their Football League Owners & Directors test, the local newspaper has reported that the funds are in place, and ratification from the Football League seems to be imminent.
The first job for the new owners could hardly be more daunting. Whatever the rest of the world might think of him, Paolo Di Canio had become a popular manager at Swindon – an inevitable by-product of leading his team to the League Two championship at the end of last season and the continuing success that the team had under him this season – and finding a new manager to continue this success in the uncertain environment in which the club currently finds itself who will placate the sense of bewilderment that many of the club’s supporters will be feeling at the moment is unlikely to be an easy one. As if to underline the topsy-turviness of their season, however, this evening they won by three goals to one away to Tranmere Rovers to go to the top of the League One table, a result thoroughly in keeping with the club’s strangely contradictory last few weeks. The League One table is tight enough for being top of the table at this stage to have a precarious feel about it, but the club has, quite literally, moved in the right direction in at least one respect tonight.
Maintaining that sort of momentum, however, might not necessarily be easy for an incoming manager, and Swindon’s cause may not have been helped by missing out in the transfer market at the end of January, with Bradley Wright-Phillips and Danny Green both staying at Charlton Athletic rather than heading to Swindon whilst another proposed loan deal also stumbled, with midfielder Marlon Pack staying with Cheltenham Town until the end of the season after the Football League blocked those deals because of the club’s failure to complete its take-over. These failures are all believed to be part of the soup of reasons behind why Paolo Di Canio left Swindon Town yesterday, though supporters of the club are likely to be feeling a little more sanguine about everything after this evening’s result.
In a statement released on Monday, the club probably sought to clear the air after a fractious few weeks. On the matter of the sale of Matt Ritchie, it said that, “It is worth noting that Matt Ritchie was sold due to the tremendous financial pressure the club is facing and in order to continue operating whilst the sale of the club went through,” which is hardly a ringing endorsement of its own financial management over the last few months or so, whilst also adding that, “We are also disappointed that the sale of the Club has yet to be approved” (a situation that is understood to have come about because the Football League required paperwork to be re-submitted by the club – again not a state of affairs that covers those responsible in glory – and of its “disappointment” at Di Canio’s decision to leave the club. We shall have to wait and see whether the departure of this manager has any long-term effects on Swindon Town Football Club. Top of the table at the end of the day after his departure isn’t a bad way to start the post-Di Canio era, and it is to be hoped that the new owners of the club can steer it clear of the choppy financial waters in which it has found itself of late.
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