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Why Sunderland Were Right to Sack Di Canio

Tempted as I was to simply write a succession of Mackem degrading hashtags, in the wake of Paolo Di Canio’s sacking as Sunderland boss, I thought I’d try something a little bit more high-brow – why Ellis Short was right to axe the Italian just six games into a new season.


With a manager’s average tenure across all four divisions down to 18 months, it’s become increasingly commonplace to see owners respond to fans’ avaricious demands at the drop of a season ticket.

And for the most part, I must say I’m against this. Given more time to prove their capabilities, I’m sure many prematurely sacked managers would go on to do well – AVB’s ill-fated stopover at Chelsea springs instantly to mind.

But there are exceptions, and Di Canio’s exit is one of them, when operating early might actually be damage control. If only the Venky’s had thought the same of Steve Kean. I’m not one to judge a manager by his last game, but I am one to judge him by his last 13.

And for Paolo Di Canio this means just three wins, three draws and a jarring seven defeats in all competitions – including a run of four losses from five in the league this season, which sees Sunderland rooted firmly at the bottom of the table.

Even considering the historic derby win over Newcastle last term and the cult miasma which followed, that is a record that would test the loyalty of even the most diehard Sunderland fan. When Di Canio was controversially appointed in March against the backdrop of his allegedly fascist views, an initial purple patch seemed almost inevitable.

The shamelessly defiant former Swindon manager duly led Sunderland to six points from his first three matches in charge.His no nonsense approach and eccentric celebrations were a welcome change to the mild mannered Martin O’Neil, but a subsequent 6-1 defeat to then relegation rivals Aston Villa brought Paolo’s party into sharper perspective. 

Sunderland avoided relegation that season without winning any more games, a fact conveniently airbrushed by many fans who were still drunk on the success they enjoyed at St James’ Park. And their misguided optimism was not helped by their manager’s overhaul in the transfer window this summer.

Di Canio brought in 14 mid table players to give the impression he was making strides, but the reality of the situation was a man enslaved by his ego and inexorably out of his depth. Four new players, let alone 14, would have been difficult enough to integrate into any playing staff, but such is the hubris of Di Canio that when the squad failed to gel, he blamed their unwillingness or inability, rather than the fact he signed them.

Indeed, Di Canio’s readiness to publicly defame his players in frequent outbursts to the press only served to highlight his own incapacity to cope at this level. Nevertheless, it seems that many Sunderland fans were willing to be patient with Di Canio, purely for what he ‘masterminded’ over a struggling Newcastle side last season; but to my mind, Ellis Short has got it right – there is no sense persisting in a bad decision.

So, the question must be asked when exactly is it okay to sack your manager. I think the answer really depends on how much evidence there is to suggest he can stop the rot, and in Di Canio’s case this was very little – more than a bad run of form, a poor judgment of signings and an increasing level of alienation of his players with each passing press conference, the writing was on the wall.

How well a manager is expected to do is of course completely relative to the resources at his disposal – Sunderland might not exactly be Manchester United, but they certainly deserve than more what Di Canio was delivering, especially as his 14 new players cost the club roughly £19million.

Still, there will be some who are dyed in the wool, clinging on to one precious away day several months ago, insisting that it is far too soon; but if timescale is all Di Canio had going for him, then Ellis Short’s actions appear perfectly justified.

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