Method Driving Di Canio Impact, Not Madness

Harry Engels

Paolo Di Canio's rants may be Christmas come early for the media, but talk of an explosion of controversy at the Stadium of Light have been greatly overstated, writes Stephen Goldsmith.

When the comparison of Paolo Di Canio's management was made to hand grenade by a Swindon Town director, we waited for it to be referenced as soon as troubles surfaced at the football club. I have to say I'm a little disappointed that the slightest evidence of turbulence has resulted in its constant use. Talk about an anti-climax for many in the national media.

I spent a lot of last season saying that Martin O'Neill was struggling to resuscitate the side Steve Bruce had left behind. That was my take on proceedings last season and I find it fascinating viewing other people's viewpoints on the current situation at Sunderland, particularly in the national press.

There are some suggestions that O'Neill's failings merely highlight how good of a job Steve Bruce done here, I conclude such observations are laughable or ignorant at best.

The Ulsterman ignited a poorly assembled side that was tumbling towards relegation and gave it a new direction and structure, the problems that then proceeded were down to the lack of an alternative to this once the ability levels of the players plateaued.

Some on the outside have also concluded as much but many then fall into the trap of implying that Sunderland have reverted back to a Roy Keane type of disciplinarian, and that we're spinning in circles so fast that we're drilling a hole straight down into the Championship.

The situation on Wearside has gone way beyond finding the right man to spark a reaction from a group of under performing players, however, and the typical evolution we're used to will only result in The Black Cats making that extra step next season. Into the division below.

Developments over the last few days are beginning to hammer home to the world just how much is being ripped apart and changed at the club, it really is the only way. Take your standard evolution, grab a great big capital 'R' and stick in it front of it.

While comparisons between Di Canio and Keane are credible on the surface, they are incredibly flawed of course. As it was Keane's refusal to practice what he preached by spending hours on the training ground that brought the axe down on his head, he bears a stronger resemblance to O'Neill in that respect. Cliques were formed as men behaving like schoolchildren wreaked havoc whilst their headmaster was away. The latter's non-confrontational nature and managerial reputation probably brought him his extended stay of execution, but if we are apparently witnessing management by hand grenade now, then it surely follows management by carbon monoxide poisoning.

And what of this management by hand grenade analogy anyway? I'm yet to see it. You can't help feeling the press jumped the gun with this one. When Di Canio first rolled into town he observed us all, sitting admirably in the palm of his hand, and announced the players were to start doing double shifts.

Words along the lines of "the players are far from happy with having to do double shifts" were sitting ready to be copied and pasted into articles as soon as the Italian started causing collateral damage. But what damage has he caused exactly?

Because removing yourself from aftermath of a couple of press conferences where he revealed the downright disgraceful professionalism of so called athletes, whose feathers has he actually ruffled? Start wafting away the smoke and you're likely to find this is no hand grenade explosion, merely the causatum of a homemade smoke flare.

Phil Bardsley can be replaced, Di Canio knows it, we know it and he knows we know it. I can't see too many people complaining about him being made an example of or being forced to seek a move away with only a year left on his contract.

People claim it's dangerous to relay to the world that seven players have been fined. Why? He hasn't named them so the theory that they are being publicly embarrassed doesn't really wash and I regard it as an important, if not imperative, tactic to deter them from re-offending. Which player wants his name to be exposed as someone who can't be arsed to turn up for meetings on time? Or leaves training without permission before turning his phone off?

A distinctly average Premier League player acting in such a manner is highly unlikely to have a queue of admirers willing to fork out millions of pounds for him. They are far more likely to try and keep their head down and assure they aren't revealed as being first class morons performing unexceptionally in a mediocre side.

There's already whispers that Bardsley regrets his actions and similar noises have come from Paul Caddis, the captain publicly axed by Di Canio at Swindon. Caddis returned to pre-season out of shape following the birth of his child and was made an example of akin to Bardsley here. Speaking of his old boss he concedes "it's his way or no one else's", yet tellingly wished him good luck at Sunderland before stating "he is a good manager and a good coach" and that "his attention to detail is brilliant". Hardly damning words from a bitterness-fueled victim of a ruthless manager.

And what of the assumption players won't sign for us because of Di Canio's style and demands? Who cares? The type of player who arrives at The Stadium of Light this summer are saying far more about themselves to the fans than any others have done previously.

Any player can issue a rallying call or say they understand what it means to play here, blah, blah and blah. They don't have a choice but to dedicate themselves to the cause now, something that's been made abundantly clear. There's also satisfaction to be drawn from the existing players who've came out and thrown their weight behind the the current situation in Johnson, Mignolet and O'Shea. Alfred N'Diaye spoke as if he couldn't pinpoint what was even unusual about Di Canio's standards of discipline.

I won't get too excited about the calibre of player starting to arrive through the doors already, a love fest for Cristian Riveros at the 2010 World Cup should heed warning to that. There are also are concerns that too many new faces won't gel and that Di Canio losing a few allies simply can't work, I get that. I really do.

Steve Bruce brought in a host of average players, and with that the current disarray was born. But the bottom line is that the core is now so rotten that I doubt Sir Alex Ferguson could come out of retirement with this squad of players and make a success of it.

Ellis Short is taking care of the necessities off the pitch. The arrivals of Valentino Angeloni and Roberto De Fanti are the ultimate attempt to create a more stable and efficient environment for any manager to work under. If Di Canio can get his players to buy into what he's all about, even for a decent amount of time, then that's an almighty leap forward.

And if and when that hand grenade actually does go off and Di Canio over steps the mark, then hopefully the foundations will be there for a new head coach to come in and seamlessly slot in. I see no reason not to give him the benefit of the doubt though. It's an ambitious blueprint and few away from Wearside will view it without cynical eyes, but it's a proactive venture that has our excitement masking our nervousness. Just.

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