From San Siro to Swindon

Date published: Sunday 29th May 2011 1:41

A fanio of Di Canio

Since the lady who “isn’t fat but suffers from glandular problems, honest” cleared her throat and began to press air from those hard working lungs through her vocal chords from the chin furthest from her feet, calling time on this season (two months early by welcoming Paul Hart to the County Ground) nothing has really happened.

Oh, except we have a new manager. Ardent followers of tin-pot leagues such as English and Scottish Premier Leagues, no doubt shielding their lack of class by prefixing with such superlatives, may have heard of him. Paolo Di Canio. No? He pushed over a ref, remember? Got an 11 game ban? Still nothing? Says he’s “a fascist, not a racist”, a Mussolini sympathiser? Scored possibly the best goal I’ve ever seen (other than Bergkamp v Newcastle, obviously).

He’s one of the fondly remembered foreigners, from a time where there were still a few English players making the majority of first team’s in the top flight, before the whinging about Wenger’s Francophilic transfer policy, became so prevalent in the press.

He’s on a par with Zola, Ginola, Juninho, Di Matteo, which is a reminder that I’ve finally gotten to that stage in life where the newly appointed managers are ex-players I used to watch on a Saturday night. The effect of this is to a) force me headlong into a crisis about aging and b) to have fully formed opinions of characters when they are linked with jobs. I feel as though I know them from their on-pitch antics, you get a sense of personality.

I’m not alone, for example, the general consensus when Zola was ingloriously booted out of Di Canio’s former club by the purveyors of one-hand reading material Gold and Sullivan, or Gollivan for short, was that perhaps dear Gianfranco might have just been ‘too nice’ to be a manager.

There was no evidence for this, other than for several seasons around the turn of the millennium, the skilful extra from Time Bandits was kicked seven ways from Stamford by brutish defensive players like Paul McGrath and Vinnie Jones, staying on his feet where possible and scoring a hatful of instantly recallable goals in the process, all with a smile on his face.

Di Canio, too, had a penchant for fair play, when not giving the ref two eyes matching the colour of his shirt. Zola’s compatriot won the FIFA Fair Play Award in 2001 when he passed up the opportunity to score an open goal by catching the ball from a cross, halting play so that Everton keeper, Paul Gerrard could receive treatment. The World’s governing body described the decision as “a special act of good sportsmanship” and if anyone knows about Fair Play it’s FIFA. Just ask Lord Triesman.


One thing I hope Di Canio and Zola don’t share though, is management ability, while we all loved Franco, he really was out of his depth at the Hammers, too big a job, too soon. Di Canio has decided to start at the bottom, following Swindon’s relegation, right at the bottom. Paolo is still held in high regard at Upton Park, only earlier this year the Italian opened the Paolo Di Canio lounge, he has a West Ham tattoo and there was major speculation that Gollivan would make Di Canio their next torture victim.

Di Canio chose Swindon though, in a move that will shock many and perhaps disappoint the East End bubble blowers. Both sets of fans can be happy however, as it is rumoured Big Sam and his assistant, BMW Bluetooth headset, are to be the unveiled by Gollivan in due course.

Presumably this will mean that Hammers fans can fill that empty 90-minute Match of the Day sized vacuum with a rental copy of Up ‘n’ Under or Invictus or another film based on Sam’s style of football every Saturday. The World Cup’s coming up this summer, it’ll get you in the mood.

Although Paolo is seeing to his affairs in Italy this week, the clearout has begun and we’re starting to see how the structure will look next term. Left back and bad omen (played for the bottom League One team for two seasons consecutively), Michael Rose has joined Colchester United, resulting in their relegation odds being slashed, and ineffectual central midfield passenger, David Prutton has opted to go back North joining Gary Megson at the Owls. Personally, I couldn’t give a hoot. HA. Geddit? A hoot. Owls… Oh, shuddup!

Four of the nine players out of contract in June, Michael Timlin, Jean-Francois Lescinel and youngsters Mark Scott and Nathan Thompson, have been offered new deals by interim chairman Jeremy Wray and after his testimony that the “majority of out of contract players will leave” it seems likely to be the end of the Swindon road for a number of the first team squad.

Most notable exiles, should they go, would be captain Jonathan Douglas and his deputy Scott Cuthbert, each have had a torrid season, made all the more disappointing by their storming form in the term that precluded it.

Di Canio has also confirmed that he will bring his own staff with him, he’ll be assisted by former AC Milan youth coach, Fabrizio Picarreta and the new fitness coach will be Claudio Donatelli, which could see incumbent Dave Morrison on his way. I expect to see many more go in the coming weeks, perhaps the revolving door will be provided with a catalyst as Di Canio’s returns.

Despite having reservations during the interview phase, where Leicester City coach, Dietmar Hamman’s and former Scotland manager, George Burley, were the other two corners of a triangular shortlist, having heard Di Canio’s first press conference as a football manager, I am confident Mr Wray has made the right decision.

I think I speak for the majority of Swindon fans when I say we’re behind the current administration and we’re approaching next season with high hopes that what we’ve just witnessed over the past nine months can be wiped away in a blaze of glory. We’re certainly a lot happier than Sheffield United fans with our new man in charge.

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