Unravelling the Messy Paolo Di Canio-Sunderland Divorce

Sam TigheWorld Football Tactics Lead WriterSeptember 23, 2013

WEST BROMWICH, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 21:  Paolo Di Canio, manager of Sunderland walks towards  the fans at the end of the Barclays Premier League match between West Bromwich Albion and Sunderland at The Hawthorns on September 21, 2013 in West Bromwich, England.  (Photo by Tony Marshall/Getty Images)
Tony Marshall/Getty Images

A Paolo Di Canio and Sunderland Football Club divorce was a sure thing this side of Christmas. 

The Italian was brought in to save an ailing side from relegation late last season, and his fiery, explosive character was the perfect match for a club in serious danger of dropping into the Championship.

But long term? It was always going to be difficult to buy into the Di Canio way of doing things for a season or more.

And over the course of just 12 games in charge, he managed to alienate more than a dozen people.

Here, we chart the decline of Di Canio's relationship with the Premier League, the fans and, most importantly, the club and its players.


Early Controversies

Upon accepting the job, Di Canio was perhaps unfairly probed and lambasted for his political stance. It had been an issue at Swindon Town and now, according to the BBC, he had refused to answer questions on his beliefs in his opening set of press conferences.

Those anticipating an exploding bomb behind the microphone were pleasantly surprised, and some were led to believe it was a toned-down version of the man who pulled off a Fascist salute to his hometown crowd at Rome's Stadio Olimpico.

How wrong they were.

He started by telling The Express that Martin O'Neill had crafted an unfit, physically poor side. After taking the lead in his first game at Stamford Bridge, his side were unable to maintain a high tempo and eventually succumbed to a loss, leading to him grumbling: "It was impossible to maintain our first-half performance. It’s not the fittest team in the world."

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 07:  Paolo Di Canio, manager of Sunderland reacts during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Sunderland at Stamford Bridge on April 7, 2013 in London, England.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Before Sunderland travelled to Villa Park for a crunch Monday night clash in the relegation struggle, Di Canio likened visiting the claret and blue side to enjoying a Pavarotti concert.

"I’m not worried about Villa Park," he told the Sunderland Echo. "It's an easy place to go."

The Black Cats lost 6-1, had Stephane Sessegnon sent off and Christian Benteke scored a hat-trick. Surviving the drop became a doubt.

Upon season's end, with Sunderland safe for another year, the Italian launched into a 24-minute tirade in his press conference, telling Miguel Delaney of ESPN that his squad's attitude is "disgusting" and that he'd performed a "miracle" to keep them up.

That shunning of blame and quickness to claim credit became a recurring theme in his reign.


Fresh Start?

Di Canio, perhaps spurred on by his derogatory comments, recruited 14 new players over the summer to change the fortunes of his squad.

Some were well-known, astute signings such as Emmanuele Giaccherini, Jozy Altidore and Ki Sung-Yeung (loan), while others were gambles in the form of unproven or upcoming talents.

There were no especially horrific performances on display, but it's fair to say the players failed to adjust and jell in such climate-shock conditions.

What a new collection of players needs at this point is probably an arm round the shoulder—what they got was public criticism and singling out.

WEST BROMWICH, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 21:  Paolo Di Canio, manager of Sunderland gestures at the end of the Barclays Premier League match between West Bromwich Albion and Sunderland at The Hawthorns on September 21, 2013 in West Bromwich, England.  (Photo by
Tony Marshall/Getty Images

John O'Shea was blasted by Di Canio after receiving a red card and conceding a penalty in the away loss to Crystal Palace, and the Italian told Sky Sports that he'd continue to take such an approach.

Sessegnon, one of the club's best players, was sold on transfer deadline day after former Lazio star Di Canio was left unimpressed by the Benin international's desire and attitude, reported Sky Sports.

One of his own signings, Cabral, was then hounded for a poor performance, and Sky Sports revealed some alarming quotes: "Maybe one day, if he can show me that he understands football, then yes he will play again."

After losing 3-0 to West Bromwich Albion, The Telegraph understands Di Canio blamed Lee Cattermole for the third goal, and the players finally took a stand.


He Made It an Easy Choice

Sunderland, rooted to the foot of the table with just a single point from five matches, have used a whopping 21 different players in the Premier League so far.

Kieran Westwood has been asked to replicate Simon Mignolet's heroics, five different strikers have started and even new signings—of his own scouting and volition—have been singled out.

Di Canio has left the building blocks of a very strong squad, deep in both numbers and talent, but he expected too much too soon and refused to shoulder the blame.

It's been a crazy few months, Paolo.