Column
PUBLISHED : Saturday, 28 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 28 September, 2013, 1:44am

Di Canio, the tyrant, unlikely to be seen again in the EPL

Due diligence and sensibility were forgotten and his fate was sealed from day one - he was too combustible for EPL

BIO

Peter Simpson is a China-UK based journalist and the SCMP’s former Beijing 2008 Olympics news editor. He has covered major international news and sporting events, most recently the London 2012 Olympics and Euro 2012 in Poland and Ukraine. Peter is a Premier League season ticket holder at newly promoted Southampton FC.
 

On any given Saturday, hordes of men spurn football and instead dress as warriors of yore and re-enact famous battles. They are members of battle re-enactment societies and they base their fancy-dress scuffles on historical events, 1415 Agincourt and 1066 Hastings among the favourites.

The societies, like the Medieval Siege Society of Great Britain, are open to battle requests. Name the rivals, date and location, and these tough historians will do their utmost to find the right armour and pikes to fit the occasion.

Perhaps Sunderland fans in years to come will request a replay of their remarkable clash against a Roman tyrant. The mighty clan of Weirsiders defeated their power-crazed emperor, Paolo Di Canio, last weekend in scenes that will ensure one particular page in the EPL history book will be well-thumbed by generations to come.

When he declared after the West Brom match that his players had "rubbish for brains", the soldiers turned
Peter Simpson

There was something deeply tragic when Di Canio (not for the first time) walked across the pitch after the final whistle to reconcile with supporters after the 3-0 away drubbing at fellow strugglers West Brom, a result that rooted the Black Cats to the bottom of the league. He stood gesturing, calling for sympathy for his monumental ego.

"I absorb the insults as it's part of the game. If I was in their position I'd be furious," said the Italian firebrand, who likes to portray himself as a man of the people.

Yet there was no silencing the vox populi this time. They vented their spleen and called for his head. Di Canio had severely misread their mood.

"Et tu, brute," wailed his body language as it dawned on him he had lost the mandate to rule.

He turned for the tunnel knowing that inside the back-stabbing corridors of the coliseum, the knives were already out. By Monday, he was unceremoniously dethroned and likely banished from the EPL forever.

Just like the mock conflicts of the battle re-enactment societies, Di Canio's defeat was heavily scripted. We knew of his fate the day he signed for Sunderland 175 days earlier.

We all knew he was destined to lose his job after losing his head, that he was too combustible to succeed in the EPL. We had all thought, said and wrote about his quick demise. After all, history teaches us everything.

We all knew this explosive drama queen with his ultra right-wing tendencies and histrionics was not fit for purpose in the EPL.

We all knew he lacked the wit and intelligence to carry out the delicate political craft of player management in the top flight, and that his hiring by the Sunderland board was an insult to due diligence and sensibility.

Once installed, power went to his boiling head, as we predicted. He had by all accounts ruled Sunderland like a tyrant with confrontational fits and hisses, tantrums and rants.

He issued mad diktats, including barring the club's tea ladies and cleaners from having a chat with the players.

Coffee and ketchup were banned. How did that cautionary ditty by Martin Niemoller go . . . "First they came for the condiments, but I didn't do anything because I didn't like mayo . . ."

The eccentricity that had worked in the lower leagues with Swindon was exposed for what it truly was - power-crazed lunacy smothered in self-centred delusion. Over the summer months, his increasingly erratic rules, fines and behaviour began to cause friction rather than instil discipline and respect as he hoped. He ruled monstrously, threatening the sack for those who failed to show loyalty by doing what he ordered.

Such iron-fisted management might work if you are successful. But Di Canio achieved the opposite during his short, bitter reign.

Yes, he kept Sunderland up and they beat arch-rivals Newcastle, but they finished 17th last season. They were 16th when he took over.

He quickly alienated himself by erecting a circle of close confidantes he brought with him. He excluded the club's long-serving, loyal coaching and scouting staff. When he declared after the West Brom match that his players had "rubbish for brains", the soldiers turned. He had crossed the Rubicon by questioning the players' commitment, lifestyles and attitudes.

"One day, if I receive the full support from the players, we will turn the corner," he said.

According to insiders, all hell broke loose and even Di Canio's signings waded in. Defiant and aghast at the treachery, he called the squad's bluff. He challenged them to telephone the club's owner, Ellis Short, if they wanted him to be sacked.

They did.

With the dressing room, terraces and now owner in revolt - and the Black Cats bottom with just one point from their opening five games - the board knew the battle was lost.

Sunderland is a proud football club with a long history. But Di Canio's brief association has left an embarrassing blemish.

The fans have suffered the hiring and firing whims of the board for five years, during which time they have had five managers. Yet the supporters survive to fight the great fight, starting again tomorrow against Liverpool.

Thankfully, unlike their last struggle, this battle is as it should be - totally unscripted.

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