Black Cats need stability after Di Canio show

Monday 23rd September 2013 20:36

Paolo Di Canio: Loved the limelight at Sunderland

Paolo Di Canio: Loved the limelight at Sunderland

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FanZoner Michael Graham says Paolo Di Canio's stubbornness meant Sunderland had no choice but to remove the boss from the spotlight he craved.

"I won't change". Three fitting words that dominated Paolo Di Canio's final public comments as Sunderland manager.

They were snarled through gritted teeth and delivered almost as a challenge to the rational world to see who would blink first and back down. It was, quite simply, a microcosm of Di Canio - both man and myth.

As far as his Sunderland stint goes, he breezed in with a refreshing candour. Us fans can complain about it now it is over but there were plenty of us who embraced the early deployment of his management's infamous hand grenades. They levelled the ground and deprived the players the hiding places in which many had grown a little too comfortable.

His achievement in keeping the Black Cats up last season shouldn't be summarily dismissed either to serve the present narrative. The shock Di Canio provided to the system was sufficiently rousing to secure survival.

But, ultimately, things that don't change don't survive. I know the Italian prides himself on his ability to circumvent convention, but that is one absolute rule that has swatted down bigger fish than him without a thought before, quite literally.

Much has been made of the various merits of Sunderland's transfer business this summer, but the verdict on that is still pending and, we should stress, it was mostly carried out by director of football Roberto De Fanti anyway.

His tactical doctrine raised a few questions too, principally whether a team that lacks any top-class quality can afford the luxury of playing an open 4-4-2 system that sacrificed the middle in the hope of overloading the flanks. That, again, may have settled down given a little more time.

But there was one fundamental truth that Di Canio couldn't, or more likely wouldn't, accept - without the good graces of those he relied upon on the pitch, he was an invader without an army.

"You [his players] don't have to love me, you just have to follow me", he boasted upon his appointment at the Stadium of Light last March. It is true, but they did need to like him and they did need to want to see him succeed.

And why would they? The pecking order at Sunderland has been made clear by Di Canio from day one. Any success would be his, any failure would be his players'.

That's what all the antics were about. The demonstrative hogging of the limelight and carefully constructed soundbites, designed to place himself firmly at the centre of the Sunderland universe.

All that is fine if you are winning. In football, you can do anything you want as long as you're picking up points and earning plaudits. Di Canio, however, never earned that right. He obsessively sought the spotlight and the rest of us watched as it highlighted only his flaws in savage clarity.

Will I miss Di Canio? Right now I can't really say. It was all over so quickly that we'll never really know what on earth it actually was - or might have been. But I wanted to believe in him and I won't pretend otherwise.

It has been described as 'cult of personality' and I remain convinced that was what, in his head at least, he was trying to create. The reality was very different though. It was pride of personality. No one else was involved; the limelight was not, and would never be, for sharing.

I am not entirely sure where Sunderland go from here. At this point I am almost past caring. This makes it three seasons in a row where the axe has fallen on a manager mid-season. Though, perhaps on this occasion he was unbackable, and I suspect the full story will horrify when it inevitably comes out.

The league position is alarming but not irreversible, but one thing must be made very clear: there is no longer any room for style over substance on Wearside. The club needs stability. After all, there is only so long that you can tread water before you drown.

You can find Michael on Twitter @Capt_Fishpaste - and don't forget to follow @FanZone too for links to all the latest blogs.

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