Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Di Canio's departure creates recruitment issues for Sunderland

Rarely have we seen the unhappy demise of a football manager illustrated in a single public gesture as we did with Paolo Di Canio’s stand off after Sunderland’s 3-0 defeat at the Hawthorns last Saturday. It will go down in English football lore as yet another one of those bizarre moments of experimental theatre by a man who has for many years been a colourful conversation piece of the English Premier League.

From pushing referees off their feet to hoodwinking Fabian Bartez, the Italian forward (who would have been an eccentric journeyman had he not moved to a fledging Premier League that despite its wealth was still struggling to emerge from its tactical backwater when he was in his pomp) was a scorer of great goals and whose demonstrative manner and charisma made him a darling of the football media. But as a manager he appears to lack the skills of his trade that he had as a player and his antics now make him look like foolish. It is suggested that he had alienated himself to the point where even the tea lady had cause to complain.

Given the circumstances of his departure and his reputation as a coach, it is unlikely that we’ll see the former Sheffield Wednesday and West Ham striker managing a Premier League club again. One can imagine a low ranking Serie A club taking a punt on him for the last weeks of a season in a desperate attempt to avoid relegation. However, beyond that it is hard to see too many clubs employing a man whose previous employer at Swindon described his methods as “management by hand grenade”.

As Di Canio departs, Sunderland are faced with a task that in recent years, has proven problematic. Di Canio’s predecessors Martin O’Neil and before him, Steve Bruce had their moments but the former was not popular for his tactics and the latter was just not popular. However, had they continued, it is as likely as not that they would have steered Sunderland to a consistent lower mid table position which, the club’s owner Ellis Short probably feels is not sufficient but in the grander scheme is no disgrace.

A little further back, Roy Keane was recruited to inject some dynamism and energy into a club that from the outside appears moribund. However, despite a blinding start leading to an emphatic Championship victory, Keane too was unable to lift the Black Cats out of their mediocrity.

It seems that in recent years, the club has appointed either experienced managers who have hit a bump in their careers or inexperienced firebrands who promise to energise the club. We can deduce, therefore, that Mr Short and his Sporting Director, Roberto Di Fanti, is looking for a high profile coach who can inspire the fans while at the same time actually coaching the team.  This is probably why, Gus Poyet is the current favourite and the other names in the frame, Steve McClaren and Tony Pulis are not.

McClaren is reputed to be an excellent coach and the only Englishman since Howard Wilkinson in 1991 to win a domestic league title. In fact I argued in this week's Sound Of Football that he would be a good choice for Sunderland. However, the former FC Twente coach’s reputation is damaged following bad spells at Wolfsburg and perhaps more pertinently at Nottingham Forest. However, you can be sure that Harry Redknapp will be a relieved man if his assistant coach at Loftus Road is discounted. As for Pulis, there can be little argument with his record at Stoke but he wins ugly and you suspect that Sunderland have had a belly full of ugly.

The other prime suspect Roberto Di Matteo who won the Champions League with Chelsea and demonstrated his skills in re-motivating an unsettled dressing room after the departure of Andre Villa Boas. You can’t shake the feeling however, that the former West Brom manager was not much more of a caretaker and that the real power during that extraordinary cup run lied in the Stamford Bridge Dressing Room with the senior players. This may be a simplistic interpretation but one that is widely felt and may prove to be a barrier to employment for Di Matteo.

Poyet exudes the image of the modern coach and is an obvious choice. His final week’s at Brighton were scatty in more ways than one but the Uruguayan has proved to be a more than competent manager who has served his time as an assistant and enjoys a positive media profile.

His first task will be to look after the tea lady and then the dressing room will follow.