It has all the hallmarks of being an elaborate April Fools gag, but with millions at stake for staying in the Premier League, it’s far from it. Not long after Sunderland decided they would be better off without managerial messiah, Martin O’Neill, Paolo Di Canio was the rumoured successor and yesterday evening, it was confirmed.
The controversial Italian (44) has been handed a two and a half year deal with the Black Cats and starts with seven of the most important games in the club’s history. It’s a bold move, a calculated risk on an emerging managerial talent that could look like a stroke of genius by the end of the season. On the other hand, there’s a school of thought that this is a recipe for relegation and the appointment is about as well-judged as a James McLean tweet.
There’s no doubt that Di Canio has enjoyed success in his brief managerial career. It was a surprise to see him rock up at Swindon, but almost immediately he brought success, going up to League One as champions of the basement division and guiding the Robins to the final of the FA Trophy. Before he walked out of the club due to a hissy-fit about the club’s ownership and finances, his team were well on course for a place in the playoffs, possibly even going up to the Championship automatically.
His record may not be under question, but his temperament is. He was popular with the fans at the County Ground, but he was no stranger to upsetting his players and speaking his mind. During his reign at Swindon, he subbed his goalkeeper, Wes Foderingham after 20 minutes of one game, had a row with one of his ‘lazy’ players and generally bubbled with ego and volatility. If he upset League One players who need to toe the line for their livelihood, how will his action be received by the comparatively prima-dona players of the Premier League who will go running to their agents at every cross word sent in their direction?
And then there’s the fascism. If you are to read the profiles of Di Canio, you might be under the impression that he has recently converted to the totalitarian ideology. He hasn’t, but now he’s a Premier League manager has it become an issue apparently. Sunderland director and former ineffective, but oddly smug politician, David Milliband resigned ‘in protest’ at the appointment and it’s surely not the last we’ve heard about the Italian’s blurry politics.
After Saturday’s in no way surprising defeat to Manchester United, the Black Cats are 13/8 to go down. They’re 4/9 to stay up and although that makes them odds-on to stay up, it’s an uneasy price that could change very quickly. They’re bottom of the form table and their run-in is tricky, featuring a mix of big clubs and games against teams also involved in the relegation scrap that are too close to call. First up is a trip to Stamford Bridge to take on Chelsea where his team are currently rated 8/1 shots to pull off a surprise win that wouldn’t be too surprising. The following week, it’s a mouth-watering trip to The Artist Formerly Known as St. James’s Park for the pressure cauldron of the ‘I’m more north-eastern than you’ derby against Newcastle.
There’s a fine line between bravery and stupidity. Already Di Canio’s managerial career has shown us that. There’s no guarantee of success, but at least there’s a guarantee of hissy fits. At the end of the day, that’s what the majority of football fans really want.