Eight years ago, Paolo Di Canio was sacked after a short, yet explosive time in charge of Sunderland - relieved of his duties under unusual circumstances, as a group of vocal senior players took it upon themselves to express their concern directly to the then-owner about the direction of the club under the fiery italian.
Sunderland had started the season terribly, failing to win any of our games in the Premier League, and calls to replace Di Canio within the fanbase were already growing.
Having slumped to the bottom of the table following a loss to Arsenal at the Stadium of Light, morale was low, and we ventured to West Bromwich Albion knowing that three points were needed if we had any chance of rescuing our season.
Sadly, for Di Canio at least, things couldn’t have gone much worse.
We were battered 3-0, and a popular former player whom had been sold by Di Canio for absolutely no good reason - Stephané Sessegnon - even managed to get on the scoresheet.
After the game, Di Canio remonstrated with fans, who berated him from the stands.
The very next day, Paolo was relieved of his duties.
The statement on SAFC.com read:
Sunderland AFC confirms that it has parted company with Head Coach Paolo Di Canio this evening.
Kevin Ball will take charge of the squad ahead of Tuesday night’s Capital One Cup game against Peterborough United and an announcement will be made in due course regarding a permanent successor.
The club would like to place on record its thanks to Paolo and his staff and wishes them well for the future.
And that was that - he was gone.
Speaking to Roker Report back in 2016, ex-Sunderland striker and club masseur Craig Russell gave his honest views on Paolo’s time on Wearside:
Paolo came in with a lot of gusto. But, when it came down to it, results showed he could talk the talk but not walk the walk.
I’ve argued with a lot of folk of about this, but I feel like anyone could have managed the team at St. James that day and we would have won. I felt like he made it about him though, and it was a shame because it should have been all about how strong-minded the players were the day. The players were fantastic.
The next game though we scraped past Everton because Sess (Stephane Sessegnon) was on fire that day, as he was the week beforehand - Paolo just didn’t want him at the club from the beginning, yet it was him who was winning us the points.
I just felt it was all about him, and I’m a Sunderland boy who wants it all to be about Sunderland. The second season, it didn’t take a genius to work out that it didn’t go well and that the team wasn’t working under his stewardship. There was a lot of talk of a player’s mutiny, certain individuals and that kind of stuff, which most people seem to have felt happened, but it didn’t at all. It was just that the club acted fast to remove him and before it was too late.
You could see at West Brom the fans seemed to have lost some faith too. The club acted quickly, not the players. It was the right decision, because in six months we were at Wembley.
And in an interview with the Daily Mail in 2014, John O’Shea was asked about the much talked about meeting between a core group of players and the club:
[Did the players issue an ultimatum to the board?] Yeah, something along those lines, something along those lines.
It was very strange, but it was something that just had to be done. Something had come to a head and it was plainly obvious there was only one way things could go forward.
The timing of it was needed. Yeah, without a doubt.
It had come to a point over a couple of months build up that something was going to happen. It was incredible. The couple of days when it did happen, it was mindboggling. Football is football. Management, playing, being involved and being an older and experienced player, it was definitely an eye opener of what goes on.
I’d love to tell you lots of stuff but we’re under restrictions of what we can say. It was just everything. The environment that had been created just wasn’t working so something was going to give.
Speaking to the Undr the Cosh Podcast earlier this year, Danny Graham spoke about how he believed that meeting went down:
There was a big meeting - I think I was on loan again at this point - but after West Brom away he started going through a few of the lads and Carlos Cuellar stood up and called him a fucking prick. ‘Any other manager I would break my leg [for] but for you, I would jump out of a tackle.’ And then it was a conveyor belt of the lads going through him apparently. Everyone got a phone call the next day and that was him gone.
Di Canio, however, was less candid in his assessment of the situation in a statement made following his dismissal:
There has been a lot written in the media in recent days, much of it wholly untrue. There was no training ground bust-up as some are reporting and many of the players have since sent me messages thanking me for my time as their manager and helping them to improve as footballers.
We could see that results had not gone as well as any of us had hoped, but I felt as a team we could turn things around.
It would be great to get the full story about ‘that’ meeting at some point from a player who was actually there - though I imagine you’re not likely to get it unless you speak to someone off the record!