'You decide,' as Jake used to say. But is there a middle ground?

‘You decide,’ as Jake used to say. But is there a middle ground?

Is it possible to believe both that Ellis Short was utterly right to dismiss Paolo Di Canio when he did and that not every scathing appraisal of PDC was fair? Ken Gambles regards the merits of the sacking to be proper ground for debate but finds unjust and unpleasant the almost cliched view of the Italian as a man not quite right in the head …


Oh no! Not Paolo revisited, you may be thinking.

Well, I don’t write this with the intention of re-opening the PDC debate, for certainly attitudes are deeply entrenched. Merely I make an attempt to be fair to the man without recourse to kneejerk sloganising. A bit of a reconsideration, if you like, now that the dust has settled.

The one aspect of the anti-Paolo camp I find particularly unpleasant is the sobriquet “lunatic” which is on a parallel with that Conservative mantra about “the mess Labour left us with”.

Both statements have the intention of stopping any debate as if they are self-evident truths when, in fact, the reality is far more complex. Whenever I hear the terms mentioned I immediately sense that the speaker’s argument is superficial.

So why “lunatic”? Volatile, certainly and – as his chairman at Swindon – said “management by hand grenade”. Yes, he was determined to be in control and was clearly opinionated, but these traits have been common in other managers such as Clough, Ferguson and Mourinho and no one calls them “lunatics”. I feel the term is an undeserved one.

Is he “lunatic” because he banned tomato sauce perhaps? Well not really; diet and nutrition are key elements in full fitness, and surely this was making the point about being careful with food, especially too much salt and too much sugar. Even “Victorian” Sam Allardyce was very keen on nutrition when he was at Bolton.

Perhaps he was “lunatic”, then, for stopping players laughing, as reported by Fletcher. Of course the context isn’t known but I suspect if a schoolboy maintained “we weren’t allowed to laugh at school” what he’d really mean is that during lessons and assemblies etc, disruptive behaviour and fooling about were forbidden.

The ostracism of Phil Bardsley was considered another “lunatic” thing to do, and I agree that Bardsley did later make an important contribution to the season. But I wonder how many people would have felt the same as Di Canio, especially following Bardsley’s “Ha-ha” Instagram message after the opening-day Fulham defeat?

Younger players not being allowed to share the facilities at the same time as first team players was also held to be a sign of lunacy. Yet other such “lunatics” as Don Howe at a very successful Arsenal felt younger players had to earn the privileges granted to senior players, which to me seems fair enough.

If you don’t like Di Canio’s politics, feel he did a bad job, left the club with major problems then fair enough. Those are opinions that can be argued about but please, he was not a “lunatic”.

Our very own Sunderland-supporting Louise Taylor, the excellent North-eastern football correspondent of The Guardian who met him almost every day, said he was most personable, a witty and intelligent man. All right, he possibly said too much for his own good and wore his heart on his sleeve (which I found refreshing) but that is hardly lunacy and surely the club could have prevented him saying too much if they had managed the press conferences more professionally.

Surely there is no doubt that there was a campaign against him in the media following the “fascism” furore after Miliband’s resignation, which does incidentally show the same bias as in “Labour’s mess” so that any sensible analysis becomes clouded by an agenda. To some extent the bad press is still there: witness the speculation about Poyet leaving and of course the Ji/points deduction farrago (whatever happened to that campaign?).

On paper Di Canio’s record looks poor but with no Fletcher, a 10-man comeback to draw with Stoke and a good performance at Spurs with a lightweight side showed real resilience, then followed by promising pre-season performances in Hong Kong. OK the Villa game was an embarrassment, but we’ve had plenty of those this yea, too.

As for the transfer dealings this summer perhaps one day we will genuinely find out who had the final say. If it was Di Canio then he quickly realised the paucity of his squad and was desperate for “an English mid-fielder” and better quality overall. Training must have improved because we have looked much fitter and have suffered far fewer injuries. Even Wes Brown played for most of it! And yes we bought some duds, but the acquisitions of Mannone, and Ki and Borini on loan, were crucial in the final analysis. A number of the players bought were for the future anyway.

This is beginning to sound like an apologia for the man when really all I wish to do is to offer a more balanced perspective. I suspect some of the “dislikes” this piece may attract will say it’s me that’s unbalanced, but so be it.

We did survive this season and it did feel like a miracle. Although some still doubt Gus, I sincerely hope he has more control next season and more of the players he wants. I remain optimistic.

Meanwhile, Paolo Di Canio’s tenure at the club still splits the support, though more and more seem to fall back on the shorthand kneejerk idea that he was indeed a “lunatic”. There are powerful arguments to be made on both sides of the more reasoned debate, but it is more complex than the simplistic sloganising that does no one any favours. To call him a “lunatic”, well you must be mad.

Ken Gambles: a plea for reason

Ken Gambles: a plea for reason

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12 Responses to “Gambles Rambles: a cry for fairness on Paolo Di Canio” Subscribe

  1. Tom Lynn June 6, 2014 at 10:54 am #

    Paolo had a lot of the problems at SAFC sussed-a lack of professionalism that included his publicly quoted observations on certain players messing around during training and not taking it seriously, people being late for training and leaving straight afterwards [remember players being late for the team bus regularly under Keane], insinuating young players including Wickham were enjoying the riches of being footballer’s but not putting the graft in and appreciating that it is football that gave you that lifestyle in the first place [he called Wickham a playboy and I honestly think this has psychologally stuck in Connor’s mind thus the vast uimprovement in his fortunes] etc etc.. The problem was Paolo lacked diplomacy and said far too much in the public arena, plus his man management was sadly lacking. He was not perfect the way he conducted himself as a player all of the time, once asking to be substituted in a West Ham home game because the referee denied what he saw as a succession of definite penalty appeals.
    It was very interesting too, when Poyet said last season that there is something fundamentally wrong with SAFC, which is exactly what Paolo said but in a different manner.
    There is something fundamentally wrong when one of the best supported clubs in the world, one who average over 40,000 despite one major trophy since 1937, one that has tasted third tier football and suffered pathetic 19 and 15 point top flight seasons, one that boasts a world class stadium and world class training facilties but one that continually puts its fans through agony due to constant flirtation with relegation and failure too often to do itself justice against even clubs of far lesser history, stature and support. We hope next season will be better and despite the shambolic nature of much of his reign, Di Canio kept us up the season before last, which now indirectly gives Poyet the chance to build the club in his mould and to find out what needs to be done so that we can become ‘fundamentally successful’!

  2. Drummer June 6, 2014 at 2:17 pm #

    Not a lunatic, just out of he’s depth with it seems zero man management skills. All he had to offer was the short, sharp, shock and that has a very limited lifespan . I thought he was out of ideas by the end of last season and I would have been happy if the club had let him go then . That’s not being wise in hindsight ,just that most people like me who were doubtfull about him kept their council as he had ‘ kept us up’ so had earned the right to take us further . He was becoming a figure of total disruption by the end and as you say, had to go.

  3. Jeremy June 6, 2014 at 4:25 pm #

    What a superb summation of the PDC reign, Ken.

    Nothing that short could be described as an era. PDC’s antics and what have been described as “lunatic” behaviours are more indicative of the attitude of a man who was born out of his time.

    For many years I’ve thought that Brian Clough wouldn’t be a manager had he been born 25 years or more later as he’d not be allowed to assert his well known discipline on players. He simply wouldn’t have lasted.

    PDC was lumbered with a busload of complete dross who made little if any impact on the team and much of this summer will be spent getting rid of the majority of those who’ve already left on loan deals etc.

    We may have survived, but some of the spineless performances and horrible results which continued for long after he departed are confirmation of some shoddy tools he was given by the Boris Johnson character responsible for recruitment. Borini was a good loan signing, and Giacherrini has a lot to offer (more to come from him next season I’m sure), but as for the rest, there wasn’t a lot of talent or discipline to either coach or manage.

  4. William C June 6, 2014 at 10:25 pm #

    PDC was a maverick as a player. A flawed genius like others before him. One thinks of Best, Stan Bowles, Gazza, and from another era, Len Shackleton.

    Would any of them have been good managers? I doubt it. People like them just don’t have the personal discipline and patience, and sheer capacity for hard work that successful management almost always requires. They sometimes have initial short term effect, but it rarely lasts.

    Clough was something of a maverick as a player, disliked by fellow players, and rather like Boycott, noted more for his obsession with his own game than his team’s performance.

    I tend to agree that it is doubtful if he would last long in modern football [ what happened at Leeds has similarities with PDC’s fate at SAFC ]

    I do agree also that DiCanio inherited a shocking squad, and, almost incredibly, with the help of Di Fanti and Co, managed to replace it with an even worse one.

    I simply think that what happened was inevitable. I know that if I was a professional footballer, I wouldn’t have put up with too much of him [ PDC ] – assuming of course that what we have heard about his methods and attitude are true.

    DiCanio failed to realise that the era of the manager being the dominant force in a club has gone [ unless you are incredibly successful – and he wasn’t ]

    • Drummer June 7, 2014 at 6:55 am #

      And judging by the amount of Premiership, Championship jobs and the Celtic job that he wasn’t even linked with,he never will be a success. Imagine what he’s tenure here looked like from the outside .

  5. Jeremy June 8, 2014 at 1:53 am #

    That seems like a strange benchmark to me that you are using there Drummer. Most manager aren’t remotely interested in it. Sorry Bhoys, but it’s true.

    When I saw who got the job, I misread the article and couldn’t for the life of me understand why Delia Smith would want to abandon here Norfolk roots.

    • Drummer June 8, 2014 at 1:40 pm #

      Think it would be perfect for someone to learn their trade at Jeremy with the anomaly that you’d also be competing in the champions league . Celtic and Rangers will always be big clubs to me, regardless of the league they’re in, bit like ourselves to be honest . I think Delia already must be a sandwich short after sacking Hougton in favour of what’s he’s name and then rewarding their relegation with an extended contract !

  6. Keith Hutton Africa June 8, 2014 at 10:11 am #

    There is no doubt PDC is eccentric and does himself no favour by the way he acts. Players see him acting strangely then demanding they are perfect will always cause problems. I agree with Ken that he was burdened with the root of all our problems unfairly and his short time with us will never be forgotten because it was contraversial all the time. I however feel he inherited a good squad that with a few additions could become alot better. Selling Sess was a mistake, but after watching ud play well in Hong Kong was expecting a good season. It went horribly wrong and PDC thought he could cane defeat out of his players was draconian and ineffective Short was left with no choice and let’s hope PDC learned from the episode but I doubt anyone worthwhile will take the risk and for that he only has himself to blame

  7. KenG June 8, 2014 at 2:09 pm #

    Well done gentlemen. What an excellent set of responses showing that despite differences of opinion intelligent discussions can be had without resorting to political-type sloganising. If more proof were needed that this site is indeed ‘articulate and well-balanced’ then this is it. Take a bow M.Salut. Chapeau!

  8. Jeremy June 9, 2014 at 3:13 am #

    Drummer. Completely agree. Hughton’s dismissal was a shock, followed by an even bigger shock when Neil Adams was appointed caretaker and then another even bigger shock still when he was appointed permanently.

    Mind you, he took them down well, didn’t he. There was some consistency and no false hope from the moment he sat down in the dug out. What’s going on Delia? Let’s be ‘aving yer!

    She must have gotten Mad Cow Disease from her Beef Stroganoff.

    • Drummer June 9, 2014 at 6:13 am #

      Ah yes Jeremy , the Norwich collapse gave us a little bit more belief in our own struggle . Every team must have a ‘ Di Canio ‘ moment at some point , they’re in the middle of theirs , didnt even keep them up , baffling !

  9. Matt WxM June 10, 2014 at 5:41 am #

    This is a really good piece Ken, which goes some way to readdressing the balance of the “lunatic” jeers. I believe he was always going to be an easy target for the media on account of his eccentricity but he’s certainly not a lunatic.

    Ultimately, he made some poor decisions (including his questionable 4-2-4 tactics); he was too outspoken and in the end wasn’t up to the job. There was no need for the character assassination.

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