COMMENT: Why Paolo di Canio sacking is triumph for Sunderland mediocrity
Paolo di Canio's sacking is a triumph for Sunderland mediocrity. A victory for those who say 'near enough is good enough'. And a blow to fans of a club once known as the 'Bank of England'.
The Italian's few months in charge of Sunderland were a whirlwind, a rollercoaster and for those desperately hoping for failure, chaotic.
But from the disciplining of Phil Bardsley, to the public taunts for Connor Wickham and even the sale of Stephane Sessegnon, Di Canio was trying to bring a new pride in Sunderland. He demanded the players felt as proud of playing for this club as their counterparts at Manchester United and Real Madrid.
But for the critics, there was something wrong with that.
Di Canio reacted with fury over Bardsley's Casino episode. And why not? For a club the size of Sunderland, is it good enough for their millionaire players to be celebrating simply staying up with an embarrassing night on the town? Perhaps it was in the past. But Di Canio wanted better for Sunderland fans. He demanded it from his players and bombed out those who weren't willing to buy into this approach.
And yet the pundits cried foul.
Sessegnon's sale was criticised, even here at tribalfootball.com. It could be argued Di Canio, having overhauled the squad to the tune of 14 new summer signings, gaffed allowing a pure matchwinner like Sessegnon leave for West Bromwich Albion. When your team is still to bed down and you're scratching around for results, having a player of Sessegnon's individual ability would have afforded Di Canio more time to bring his players together. But as he explained, Sessegnon's body language and commitment around the club just didn't fit into what he wanted.
He wanted his players to live and breathe Sunderland. A simple question: When was the last time you heard a Sunderland player mention a past player? Eric Gates, Marco Gabbiadini, Kevin Phillips, anyone? Do they even know who these guys are?
Yet, just last week, Hatem Ben Arfa spoke with pride and a desire to match the feats of "legends" like "Tino Asprilla and David Ginola" at Newcastle United. A Frenchman, not with a reputation of being a student of the game, can drop the names of modern greats at St James' Park. Yet, at Sunderland, there's no celebration of what was achieved before.
Di Canio wanted to change that.
The overhaul was always going to take time to reap rewards. But, like so much of the reporting around Di Canio, this again was misrepresented in the media. The backlash over the foreign influx was understandable, but again missed the target. Roberto de Fanti, Sunderland's director of football, did not come to the club as a package with Di Canio. The former agent had been working closely with Short during Martin O'Neill's time in charge and won't be following Di Canio out the exit door. It was he who would've had to sign off on all fourteen imports. Di Canio talked about finding an English midfield general, not De Fanti, and he ended the market with a late deal for Swansea's South Korean, Ki Sung-Yueng.
There's already a rewriting of history underway regarding O'Neill's final days in charge. The spiraling form collapse has been rubbed out. The absence from training is now forgotten. Apparently, now Sunderland would've stayed up if Short had stuck with the Ulsterman. Not withstanding that ridiculous claim, even if it was a realistic, Di Canio's detractors are still ignoring the culture of mediocrity that developed under O'Neill.
Now the course Di Canio and Short had drawn up is shattered. The American should've held his nerve and supported his manager.
The finger waggers will be dancing on Di Canio's grave. Happy to be justified in their support of self-entitled players by Short's hair-trigger. The comments of Michael Owen, the former Newcastle United striker, capture what is likely to lay ahead for Sunderland fans:
"You've heard millions of times about players being disgruntled by the way Paolo Di Canio treats them, what he says, bringing them in over the summer when they're supposed to be on holiday. It hardly surprises me if something cropped up on the training ground recently."
That's right Sunderland fans. How dare you demand better from your players. Just accept your place. And it seems, Short has complied.