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Five key moments in Paolo Di Canio's brief encounter on Wearside
Paolo Di Canio managed to fit a lot into a short amount of time in his 13-game reign at Sunderland. Northern Echo sports writer Richard Mason picks out five key moments.
THE game that changed everything for Paolo Di Canio.
Given seven games to save the Black Cats from relegation, the trip to Newcastle was Di Canio's second in charge following a 2-1 defeat at Stamford Bridge, just days after his appointment.
Neither side was safe from the drop, both had plenty to lose with relegation, but with a new manager in charge at Sunderland and Newcastle's superior strengthening in January, the odds were stacked against Sunderland.
What followed was incredible. Newcastle had gambled on fielding a weakened team three days earlier in the Europa League against Benfica, and the majority of the hosts' XI were fresh for the game. But Newcastle were out of sorts, sluggish, and lacked desire.
Sunderland, pumped up under Di Canio, were irresistable, taking the lead through Stephane Sessegnon, before Adam Johnson and David Vaughan added second-half strikes to seal a memorable victory.
Di Canio celebrated each goal in manic fashion, sliding on his knees along the St James' Park touchline when Johnson scored, punching the sky when Vaughan sealed the victory, saluting the fans at the end.
Although a team performance, the papers the next day were full of Di Canio. It was to be a theme that would recur throughout his reign.
PHIL BARDSLEY FALL-OUT
AT SWINDON TOWN, Di Canio was said to rule by hand grenade, with unpredictable team selections and bust-ups with players.
Leon Clarke's well-documented on pitch fallout with Di Canio was replicated to a degree at Sunderland when he went headlong into battle with Phil Bardsley.
A week before the final game of the season, Bardsley was pictured in a casino in Newcastle covered in £50 notes. The pictures were circulated on Instagram and Twitter and Di Canio was furious with the right-back, starting a battle which resulted in Bardsley's eventual suspension when, after Sunderland's opening-day defeat to Fulham, Bardsley shared a message on Instagram mocking his side's loss.
In the end, Bardsley outlasted Di Canio.
IN THE wake of the Bardsley incident, Di Canio took his team to Tottenham Hotspur, losing 1-0 at White Hart Lane. The game was once again second fiddle to Di Canio's post-match press conference.
The Italian coach spoke for 24 minutes about how he would change everything, that Bardsley would not play under him again, that his players lacked professionalism, that he would fine Bardsley the maximum amount, that he had fined seven players that week for indiscipline, and comparing Sunderland to a chocolate box – without any chocolates in it.
Days later, Di Canio was reported to the PFA who were investigating his decision to hand out fines to his players.
FIERY FIRST WEEK
DI CANIO was unveiled on April Fools' Day – but for Sunderland fans this was no joke.
With the Easter bank holiday, and an absence of English teams in the Champions League, Di Canio and Sunderland became big news.
National newspapers sent their chief football writers to Wearside for a Tuesday morning 8am press conference. Peculiar for a club like Sunderland. But not when the new manager was once pictured making a Roman – which was misinterpreted as Nazi – salute while a Lazio player.
Di Canio's dalliance with Italian fascism, discussed in length in his own autobiography, suddenly became big news. His right-of-centre tattoos that did not seem to cause a problem at Swindon Town were now considered unacceptable in the Premier League.
Boycotts were announced, David Milliband, in his role as non-executive vice-chairman, resigned his role – although he was jetting off for a new job in New York anyway – and Durham Miners' Association decided to remove a banner on display in the Stadium of Light reception in protest.
The club went into siege mode, refusing to discuss the issue, issuing an ill-considered press release which explained nothing of the new manager's beliefs, with the subject rearing its head at every opportunity. A clear-the-air press release later in the week appeased few, and Durham's miners retracted their threat to remove the banner.
It could have been dead and buried by the end of his first week, but Di Canio was even asked about his beliefs after his first game in charge of Sunderland, away at Chelsea.
He was asked whether he would “renounce his tattoos.” Quite how Di Canio could manage that was a mystery.
One game at St James' Park, however, would quell any further talk.
SUMMER OF CHANGE
DI CANIO promised – or perhaps threatened – change, and true to his word, it came in the summer.
Out of contract players Titus Bramble and Matt Kilgallon – neither of which had impressed Di Canio – left, Bardsley was frozen out, Lee Cattermole and Stephane Sessegnon were told they could leave, while the club cashed in on Simon Mignolet who left for £10m, Ahmed Elmohamady joined Hull City and James McClean went to Wigan. Sessegnon joined West Brom on transfer deadline day, in moves that recouped £20m for the club.
In came 14 new players, identified and scouted by new director of football Roberto de Fanti and chief scout Valentino Angeloni, including free transfers Cabral, Valentin Roberge, Modibo Diakite, Emanuele Giaccherini from Juventus for £8.6m, Jozy Altidore from AZ Alkmaar for £6m, and a raft of new players.
They played just three games in pre-season, two of them on a bog in Hong Kong for the Barclays Asia Trophy, another in Denmark, and by the time the Fulham game came along Di Canio insisted the hard work put in on the training ground would pay off.
The evidence so far – six games, one win, one draw, four defeats - would suggest otherwise. Di Canio did not seem to know his strongest XI, the new players – only Jack Colback remained of Sunderland's old defence against Arsenal a fortnight ago – had not fully bedded in and the Black Cats looked like a work in progress. But without progress actually being made.
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