When Paolo Di Canio was appointed as Sunderland boss back in March eyebrows were raised. It wasn’t just a lack of experience, although two years at Swindon hardly gave him glittering credentials for the vacancy, but also his well-documented volatile personality. This was nothing new. As a player Di Canio mixed moments of magic with moments of madness. Incidents such as pushing over referee Paul Alcock in 1998 which earned him an 11-game ban, and fascist salutes to Lazio supporters threw him into the spotlight for the wrong reasons. He did however bless us with one of the best goals in the history of the Premier League and not to forget the incredible moment of sportsmanship when he caught the ball rather than putting it into an empty net for a last minute winner so that the opposition goalkeeper could receive treatment for a serious injury.
The controversy followed him into management during his time at Swindon. He guided them to the League 2 title in his first season and was on course to reach the playoffs in League 1 before resigning, citing financial constraints and broken promises as his reasons. He also made the headlines for various other reasons such as substituting his Goalie in the first half of a match because of a glaring error, and forcing the players to come in over christmas after a disappointing draw with Bristol Rovers. With this track record the decision makers at Sunderland needed to think long and hard before making the appointment.
The priority for the club at the time was Premier League survival at all costs. This was achieved – albeit marginally. The fans were won over by a fantastic 3-0 victory at local rivals Newcastle and were further endeared by his touchline celebrations, each more passionate and comical than the last. It takes a brave man to celebrate in such fashion with 50,000 irate Geordies watching closely but with Di Canio it came as no surprise. Things at this point were looking good for the Italian, especially when it was followed up with a win against Everton which all but secured the club’s place in the Premier League. However a 6-1 loss to relegation contenders Aston Villa was a more accurate reflection of things to come.
Over the summer the board backed Di Canio by allowing him to sign no less than 13 new players. Any manager would find it difficult to gel a team in such a short amount of time, both on and off the field. Di Canio’s ‘my way or the highway’ approach to management left a sour taste among his squad and public criticisms of his players didn’t help his cause. A 3-0 loss at West Brom followed by a bizarre confrontation with his own supporters proved to be the final straw. Senior players took their complaints to the CEO resulting in his sacking. Should he have been given more time? Were the players wrong to revolt against their boss? Perhaps, but football is and always will be a results business. No matter what your personality or management style is, 1 point from 5 games is not good enough. Wins are needed quickly and the fact is Sunderland no longer trusted Di Canio to achieve them.