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Dirty knees, fall-outs and weak performances - Di Canio's reign
WITH someone like Paolo Di Canio in charge, it was difficult to make a prediction as to what exactly would happen at Sunderland this campaign.
Some suggested he would be gone before the end of the season. But which season - summer, autumn or winter?
From his appointment on April Fools' Day, Di Canio took charge of 13 games, winning three, drawing three, losing the rest. He managed to cram a remarkable amount of activity in such a brief tenure.
His side beat Newcastle United at St James' Park by the biggest margin in decades, 3-0, celebrating every goal in manic fashion ensuring he became the subject of scores of t-shirts, posters, and screensavers. That was his second game.
Victory against Everton – his last league win in charge of the club – took his side closer to safety, but a suggestion that his reign would not be plain sailing followed a week after that when Sunderland collapsed at Villa Park in a 6-1 defeat.
Two home points against Stoke and Southampton, though, secured the requisite points to stay in the division, and notwithstanding a final-day defeat to Tottenham, where Di Canio criticised his players – another hint of things to come – the Italian was permitted to prepare for his first full season at the helm.
By the end of the transfer window, Di Canio had brought in 14 new players with a net spend of £7m, including Italian international Emanuele Giaccherini and USA striker Jozy Altidore, along with free signings Cabral, Modibo Diakite and Valentin Roberge.
The players he signed, although perhaps obscure in profile, had impressive CVs boasting Champions League and Europa League experience, but, crucially, there seemed to be little sign of Di Canio's league of nations gelling on the pitch.
The first game of the season, despite much fanfare, was a damp squib for Di Canio's new-look team, with Fulham scoring on their first attack of the game and winning 1-0.
Phil Bardsley, who had irked Di Canio with his antics in a casino the season previous, was suspended after mocking his side's defeat.
A point at Southampton was impressive, but their next league game, a trip to Crystal Palace, ended 3-1 and sparked another tirade from Di Canio in his post-match debrief to the press.
In between those away trips, they were ten minutes from crashing out of the Capital One Cup until Connor Wickham and Adam Johnson helped Sunderland see off MK Dons. Four weeks into the season and it had the feeling of being a long haul.
The formation never changed, but the personnel did. Always 4-4-2, but team selection was unpredictable. Di Canio did not settle on his preferred XI, although following a promising performance in the second half against Arsenal, a game they lost 3-1, there seemed to be the notion that progress was being made.
If progress means a 3-0 reverse against the team one point above you in the league, then he was successful. Unfortunately, by anyone else's standards, he was anything but.
Di Canio regarded this project as his revolution. He may have been the figurehead, the media focus of a summer of change. Season tickets were sold in August on the back of a knee-slide on Tyneside in April, but the real architect of this change was Ellis Short.
He pulled the plug on Martin O'Neill, he changed the scouting network, he appointed Roberto De Fanti as director of football. Both he and Valentino Angeloni – the chief scout – remain.
While Di Canio had the final say on players, Angeloni and De Fanti sourced them. When Di Canio asked for a midfielder to give his side steel in the middle, Angeloni and De Fanti gave him Giaccherini, a fleet-footed attacking midfielder.
Di Canio said in August: “Sometimes you think the worst. And why? Because there are also many foreign general directors and foreign chairmen in England over the last few years. The club is a company. If something goes wrong, who has to pay? Manager, straight away.
“It has become easy to point the finger. I’m not worried. I hope never but it can happen to me, even in one month's time. It is part of this job, I am intelligent. It will be tough if it happened. I’m sure it won’t happen for results but it can happen for a different reason.”
Results did for Di Canio, but he may argue that they were hard to come by because he did not choose the players that were brought in. One thing is for certain, we have not heard the last of him.
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