Hand grenade goes off as Sunderland sack Di Canio

by James Hunt

Di Canio SunderlandLET THEM EAT KETCHUP!

That was* the cry – *I’m guessing – as Ellis Short pulled the pin on Paolo Di Canio’s reign of management by hand grenade.

The circumstances are understandable: Sunderland are bottom of the league after five games; the players reportedly unhappy with the Italian’s methods. All this was reflected in the odds on Wincomparator. However, the timing makes little sense.

In fact, very little of the events of his whirlwind time in charge make sense. The club’s handling of his appointment was a lesson in how not to do PR; if not creating the storm that surrounded it then not doing an awful lot to prevent it either.

There was the 3-0 win over Newcastle, one of the best results in recent years, but then the side capitulated to a 6-1 defeat to Aston Villa. 14 new players were signed in the summer, but all the best ones left. He publicly criticised the players, but told fans to blame him. Paolo Di Canio backed Paolo Di Canio, but ultimately those who truly mattered did not.

There was always a chance it would work out this way – indeed, politics aside, questions were also asked over his management ability when he was first appointed – yet to sack him now smacks of (pun unavoidable) short-termism from the chairman.

To back not just a change in manager, but also a complete overhaul of the playing staff, coaching team and the structure of the club – with the appointment of a Director of Football, and Di Canio being ‘Head Coach’ – only to discard it after six months does not seem a shrewd move from the businessman.

It also begs the question of why Di Canio loses his job, as do his coaches, yet Roberto De Fanti (the aforementioned DoF) keeps his. After all, he is the one who recommended the former Swindon boss to Ellis Short, and the one responsible for overseeing the player recruitment this summer. The brief was for players, those coming to the club and those staying, to be on board with the at times volatile management style, evidently they were not.

Obviously Di Canio must shoulder a fair amount of blame, as he has managed to ‘lose’ the dressing room thanks to his rigorous training methods and criticisms to the media, while only playing three pre-season friendlies was probably a mistake – he had thus far appeared uncertain of his best team, or quite how he wanted the side to play – and his narcissism and third-person referrals were beginning to grate on James Hunt.

Nevertheless, after being backed to make such wholesale changes, he could well have expected to be given more time, and should have been as well.

This is the third sacking of Short’s tenure (and he played a big part in Roy Keane’s departure), and with the increasing frequency we can expect Di Canio’s successor – whomever that may be; Roberto Di Matteo seems to be early favourite purely on the basis of nationality – to last until, say, April.

If talk of a player revolt is true, then – ignoring the fact these are unbelievably well-paid professionals who should be able to deal with what their manager demands of them – at least their performances should improve, though I’m not holding my breath.

They have their ketchup; the proof will be in the eating.