Paolo Di Canio: it’s funny how things change..

Paolo Di Canio was one of the best players to have graced the Premier League. As far as foreign imports go, Di Canio can be compared to other great Italians such as Gianfranco Zola. He was one of those players that could create something from nothing, that could do the unthinkable, the beautiful, and raise fans to their feet whenever in possession of the ball – Di Canio was a football genius.

But, as often with genius, comes madness.

As a player Di Canio was at the centre of probably one of the most controversial moments English football has seen when, whilst playing for Sheffield Wednesday, he famously pushed referee Paul Alcock over and received an eleven-match ban, following the ref’s theatrical tumble to the ground. Other incidents saw him sitting on the floor during a West Ham game after feeling victimised by the referee who wasn’t giving him anything when he felt he was being constantly fouled.

In reality there weren’t that many flash points, but the Alcock push certainly carved Di Canio a reputation that detracted from his talent as a footballer.

Di Canio played for some of Europe biggest and well known clubs – Juventus, Roma, Lazio, AC Milan and Celtic to name the main ones – and like other geniuses of the game such as Gazza and George Best, like any human being, he wasn’t perfect. But like those two fallen heroes, Di Canio is an endearing character – remember when didn’t score against Everton because Everton keeper Paul Gerrard was lying injured?

Di Canio has always been a people’s player, you could never question his motivation and he was not a footballer driven on by the allure of money or prestige. The Italian was the type of player that this great game was built on, the kind of footballer that plays with an unrivalled passion and wears his heart on his sleeve. Di Canio played as though he was a fan invited from the stands to don his team’s shirt because they were a man short –  he was, in short, as much a football supporter as a professional player can be.

But Di Canio wasn’t a normal football fan – your shirt wearing, programme buying, club shop and burger before the game kind of fan – he was hardcore. Not hardcore like the big drinking, Lyle & Scott wearing, charged up football fans that exist up and down the country these days – he was in with the big boys, not the wannabes. Paolo Di Canio was a man of the terraces, a fanatical fan, someone who was proud to be part of Lazio’s famous ‘Ultra’ supporters who were a reflection of working-class Rome, albeit one sinisterly closed to the far-right political movement.

I remember reading Paolo Di Canio’s autobiography years ago and loving it. I loved the fact he was a supporter living a footballers life, living out his dreams, and it was refreshing. It wasn’t just the supporters of the clubs Di Canio played for that loved him, it was more widespread as he represented something raw and pure in a football era that was well on its way to ‘selling out’ to the business the game has now become.

It seemed as a player his past was not a problem, in fact it was welcomed, but now that he has a high-profile job, all the skeletons have come out of the closet.

As he arrived at Sunderland to a media storm, the memory of Di Canio as a fan ‘living the dream’ as a player seems forgotten by many.

His stint at Swindon Town was great for an outsider looking in. Full of controversy, press conferences that would put even Ian Holloway to shame, and player bust-ups. His first season saw success – a Football League Trophy Final and promotion from League Two – not bad for a rookie.

His second season wasn’t bad either and who can forget such highlights as the Italian maverick offering to pay £30,000 of his own money to keep loan players at the club and helping 200 volunteers clear snow from the County Ground Pitch before buying them all pizza out of his own pocket.

Di Canio was no normal player and is no normal manager…a normal manager is the last thing that Sunderland need.

Forget the media storm that has surrounded Di Canio’s arrival at the Stadium of Light, he is exactly the type of character that can save Sunderland.

Sunderland have a good team that had gone stale and were under-performing. Not a lot is needed to get the team the results they need as they have the talent, but motivation is key and players need to raise their performance levels.

I don’t think there is a player at the club who wouldn’t play for Paolo Di Canio.

Firstly, players admire legends of the game that possessed amazing talent and technical ability. And secondly, players will already be scared of him. You wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of Di Canio by not giving 110% – Di Canio will give it from the touchline and players will be expected to give it on the pitch. Fergie’s success is built on the back of players not wanting to let him down and fearing the hairdryer – Di Canio already has the reputation.

Football is a funny game, the majority of the time fans bang on that politics have no place in football, but if the papers make a big enough deal of it, to some fans, they do.

David Miliband’s exit whipped up a storm and his motivations for his exit were nothing to do with Paolo Di Canio’s arrival in reality. He was looking for an exit after he had no reason to be associated with the football club any longer because he was out of the politics game and out of the area and therefore no longer needed to do things that would win him votes. Football in the North East is life, his association with Sunderland was merely a tactic to be associated with the people, but he didn’t need SAFC anymore.

Without Miliband highlighting Paolo Di Canio’s past, the column inches would have been mainly devoted to questioning his talent and credentials for the job, as well as highlighting that his reputation probably got him his shot ahead of young English managers grafting in the lower leagues.

Di Canio has his chance and in my opinion is the perfect man for the job.

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  1. MacM says:

    Hallelujah!! At last someone writes with balance and with football as the focus. Far too many holier-than-thou ignoramuses jumping on the band-wagon and sticking the boot into Di Canio, based upon half-truths and innuendo spouted by the usual media suspects with their own self-serving agendas. Personally, I find lots of the beliefs held by other people, both political and religious, to be unpalatable, but I have the wit and intelligence to understand that as soon as one tries to supress views and opinions that we do not like, we are truly taking the first steps on the road to mind control and anti-democracy. In any case, Di Canio is about as fascist as the average UKIP member or right-wing Tory. Can we all just move on now please, and HA’WAY THE LADS!!

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