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Captain's Blog: Why Di Canio Is A Fine Fit For Cats

In all the talk about Paolo Di Canio's wholly irrelevant and entirely alleged political ideals not 'fitting in' at Sunderland, just how perfect a fit his footballing principles are with the demands of fed-up fans has sadly been lost. Here is why the madcap Italian gets my vote.

Mike Hewitt

Around the turn of the year, I decided to finally yield to the demands of life in your 30s and committed to taking up running. Creaking joints aside, it has gone rather well, though it did fall away in the face of a hectic work schedule of late.

On Monday, on the spur of the moment, I hauled myself off my chair and headed out to pick it up again. Why? Because, quite frankly, every time Paolo Di Canio opens his mouth to the media he has a habit of making me feel like a lazy and worthless oaf.

Making you feel ashamed of yourself as a means to impart passions and beliefs upon you that are not intrinsic to your own character.... That's fascists for you, I guess. I jest, of course.

In all seriousness, the ability to make people want to work harder and feel ashamed of inactivity cannot possibly be a bad trait for a football manager to possess.

Obviously, much has been made of Di Canio's alleged beliefs and some have fervently claimed that they are not conducive with those of the Sunderland support. I have to stress in the strongest possible terms that it is a view that the overwhelming majority of people I have spoken to do not share.

Regardless, one thing I believe we all can agree upon as Sunderland fan is that the Italian's football ideals and work ethic provide a refreshing antithesis to what we have generally seen, and mostly complained about, this season.

We lamented that Martin O'Neill's team was not adventurous or assertive enough. We rued their propensity to tire in games. We questioned what on earth they did all week. We cursed him for his reluctance to trust Connor Wickham. In the space of a week, Di Canio has laid all these bare.

His assertion that "we can't look to defend and just hope that we score a goal, score the one goal, and then defend all game" is one that has rolled off the tongues of many fans this season with increasing desperation, and it is a fair one.

There was some method behind O'Neill's more conservative tactics, and they served us well up until a point. We shouldn't forget that. But whether it was by design or desperation, it had reached far too much of an extreme.

It wasn't just a convenient sound bite for Di Canio to endear himself to the fans, either. It was something he backed up at Chelsea where he went in with an attacking line-up and took the game to the European champions. There was also an occasion where he lambasted his Swindon side for not being ‘ruthless and nasty enough' to ‘kill off opponents' - after a 4-1 home demolition of Yoevil.

Similarly, criticising and blaming a squad's fitness could be seen as an easy scapegoat for a new manager. It allows him to essentially wash his hands of short-term difficulties and buy time before the burden of responsibility falls upon him.

But you struggle to see that as being the case here. We went into the first game of the season at Arsenal looking like it was our first pre-season friendly of the summer, and it hasn't really got any better since. We have all witnessed first-hand the way the team has tired and struggled to maintain even moderate energy levels all season long.

Di Canio has a strong reputation as a tough training-ground task master and, once again, the evidence was there at Chelsea where there was a genuine fresh energy about the first half performance.

It wasn't just energy and an injection of pace into the play that was noticeable, but there was a genuine purpose too. Stephane Sessegnon, much maligned for over-complicating his contribution and never taking 2 touches when 20 will do, was honing in on the opposition's goal with the tenacity of a laser-guided Exocet missile. That isn't a result of motivation or spirit. It is born of training ground work and guidance.

Di Canio has already implemented "a big change" at the training ground. "Never, never I give a Wednesday off", he blasted with palpable contempt for the standards of professionalism that existed at the club before his arrival. "We have a big privilege. They are obliged on Saturday to be as fit as much as they can."

Forget politics (you are allowed) - are these not the beliefs that we all share with regard our football club? Are these not the demands that we also make of it?

Thank your lucky stars that you are in a position to make a living playing the game that we all love, work your socks off all week long no different to if you were in the mines or shipyards of yesteryear, and spend every possible second on a match day on the front foot.

For all intents and purposes, these are the values that define Paolo Di Canio, and his ability to transition those values onto the pitch and encapsulate them in his team's football is what will singularly determine how he represents Sunderland AFC.

Personally, I suspect he'll do it rather well.

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