Put simply, I’m not at all surprised that Paolo Di Canio’s short reign at the helm of Sunderland has come to a shuddering halt. One might say that with just five games played of the Premiership season it’s too early for knee-jerk reactions regarding managers’ jobs, but the warning signs that Di Canio didn’t fit in the north-east have been present for quite some time before that. After it emerged that a dressing-room revolt had brought the Italian down, the surprise was deadened even further. My only curiosity about the Di Canio saga was why he’d been appointed in the first place.
When Martin O’Neill was dismissed by the Black Cats in March, their Premier League status was undeniably on shaky ground. Just one point above the drop zone with seven games still to play, the club’s anxiety for action was understandable. Eight games without a win is an ugly statistic, especially given that points were sacrificed to teams also fighting relegation. However by that point in the season I wonder how much time Di Canio really had to galvanise some action or style into the team. If the players can’t push together to save themselves from relegation I don’t believe a new boss can do much.
It could be that Di Canio’s fiery personality was ruled to be the kick to the backside the team needed to shake them out of the torpor that they had fallen into since January. In simple terms it worked; at the end of the season Sunderland were a slightly more comfortable 3 points ahead of relegation. However I don’t think that such an achievement naturally equates with being given the job on a permanent basis.
Taking on a club halfway through a season with a specific end in mind isn’t the same as coming into the job at the start of the summer. For example, at Chelsea last year Rafael Benitez was brought in strictly on the understanding that it was until the end of the season. That gives clear short-term goals and a structure for the manager to work with. There’s little time to stamp a personal flair onto the squad but then the manager must make do. I wonder why the Sunderland board didn’t simply take on Di Canio as a short-term option to give themselves time to appoint a permanent boss with a more considered aptitude for the task at hand. It could have been foreseen that Di Canio’s outspoken political views and rumoured draconian managerial style would cause tensions both in the terraces and the dressing room.
The managerial woes for Sunderland come in stark contrast to David Moyes’ taking the helm at Old Trafford. It is a different situation, but the gesture of faith in Moyes, and the understanding of the importance of stability, in giving the new boss a six-year contract at Manchester United, displays a model that very plainly works. It’s not a coincidence that the most successful club of the Premier League era had just one manager for twenty-three years. If anything, stable management is even more important at the lower end of the table where the possibility of a relegation battle looms large. An experienced manager who knows the club down to the ground gives the players a consistent vision to work towards. If the Sunderland board want to secure long-term success in the Premiership, they must remember that when appointing Di Canio’s successor.