Many questions were raised about Paolo Di Canio’s appointment as Sunderland manager, some for non-footballing reasons, some led by concerns about his managerial ability.
The non-footballing issues will not go away – it is simply not possible for an adult male in his forties to continually flirt with Fascism without the nasty creed impacting on his ability to manage people.
His ability as a coach, however, is a far more complex discussion. Clearly he knows the game, and has enough social intelligence to be able to instruct and communicate his vision as to how it is played.
Additionally, his fondness for those who exhibit a strong work ethic and his demands for order (ahem) allow the Italian to maximise training sessions, to impart a strong sense of organisation upon his charges and to set high standards that – while not always possible to keep – will benefit his team in the short as well as long term.
The real concern, however, is that his combustible nature and tendency to over-animate his emotions could get in the way of his in-game decision making, not to mention alienate those of his charges on the receiving end of a rollicking.
ED would pay a decent sum (no more than a tenner, this is a recession after all) to be a fly on the dressing room wall or training ground breakfast area when – in the cold light of day and with benefit of video replays – Di Canio launches into Craig Gardner for the idiotic challenge which saw him get sent off and probably banned for the season run-in. Fortunately for him the 10-man Black Cats fought back to earn a 1-1 draw with Stoke, a result Di Canio can probably take the credit for.
ED would also have loved to know what Di Canio said to his team in the dressing room at half-time of a match in which, until that point, Sunderland had been abject in every sense of the word.
While long-term Di Canio has disaster quality, and his relative lack of managerial experience means there will be results like the 6-1 hammering by Aston Villa , he has brought a ying to Martin O’Neill’s yang at Sunderland.
O’Neill is undoubtedly a fine manager but, according to insiders at the club, he appeared to have lost interest with the day-to-day running of the team. Training sessions were uninspiring – if he was even present – and team talks lacking the inspiration of old. Whether it was the club or the man, clearly things were regressing to near terminal levels.
Di Canio’s attention to detail and structure means training has improved in the short term – Sunderland’s players appear more focused than before and, while defending was never really their major problem, a shade more organised and willing to protect Simon Mignolet.
But Monday’s turnaround against Stoke can be attributed to Di Canio’s words at half-time, words that appeared to inspire Adam Johnson – an undoubted flop since his club-record move from Manchester City – into the kind of second-half performance that made him a regular in the England side not so long ago.
Johnson’s malaise has symbolised Sunderland’s steady decline. Like most flamboyant wingers, Johnson is a confidence player, and when the man supposed to inspire and motivate was effectively on gardening leave for the second half of the season, that confidence was shot, absent, apparently without the possibility of return – in the short-term at least.
Blood and thunder is an archaic form of man-management but, taken in context with renewed organisation, focus on detail and demands for professionalism, it gives the extra boost required to turn players and matches around. Just ask Sir Alex Ferguson.
Di Canio could prove to be a short-term fix – his tendency to fight with players and officials in his own organisations mean that, no matter how impressive he is on the training ground and touchline, the political aspect of any management job in any industry will ultimately prove his downfall.
But with only two crucial matches remaining this season, short-term thinking can prove the tonic when £60 million is on the line.
Reda Maher - on Twitter @Reda_Eurosport
QUOTE OF THE DAY
When asked if he was planning on watching relegation rivals Wigan play Swansea on Tuesday, Di Canio said: "No, no, because the last time I watched them they won. I will relax.... I'm a Pinocchio..."
Bayern Munich will allow Uli Hoeness, who is under investigation for suspected tax evasion, to continue as club president.
"Uli Hoeness has expressed his regret to the club over the case and apologised," the club said. "The board of directors will continue to observe the situation and deal with any new findings on the topic."
Clearly the Champions League final trumps business ethics, as anyone else in this position would have been suspended.