About Me

Football purist, realist and general sports fanatic. Interested in all aspects of the game, from all corners of the earth.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Paolo Di Can'tio

It was a managerial style destined to produce as many casualties as the final scene of King Lear. A man going about his business like Denzel Washington in the final hour of Man on Fire with the crazed intent of a teenage psychopath finally getting his hands on Grand Theft Auto at a friend’s house after his own parents dared to say no. And yet the whole farce was as predictable as an Italian political scandal.

Paolo Di Canio’s appointment at the Stadium of Light at the tail-end of last season stands alone at the top of the podium for “Genuinely Horrific Managerial Appointments” in the Premier League’s life-time. Watching the situation in the North-East for the past six months has been like watching You’ve Been Framed for ten years and persisting with it, fully aware that Grandad will fall off his chair and plant his face into the birthday cake. The fact there seems to be a universal approval of Ellis Short’s decision to rid his team of its head-coach after a mere 12 league games highlights just how disastrous the Italian’s reign has been.

Di Canio may have topped his coaching class at home in Italy but whatever skills he might possibly possess in a tactical sense will never transmit to his players as a result of his immature, egotistical personality. The precursors were there; the two large elephants in the room waving and making advances at the Sunderland board prior to their final decision to charge Di Canio with the responsibility of keeping The Mackems’ head above water in a season where half a dozen teams could have staked a claim as worthy relegation-fodder. Not only was the Italian temperamental on the pitch with a chequered past of controversy but also a somewhat successful, yet ultimately tumultuous debut in the dugout in charge of Swindon Town; “management by hand grenade” in the words of chief executive Nick Watkins.

There was the public row with a goalkeeper following a premature substitution after twenty minutes, constant ultimatums towards the board, the youth team coach forced to take time off work due to high stress levels under Di Canio, and any time in between involved falling-out with his new signings whose agent’s fees added up to 46% of League Two’s total figures.

Yet Short expected the egos of Premiership footballers and that of a cocksure ex-pro to gel in matrimony. The writing was on the wall in the first week, the club’s vice-chairman and son of a Jewish immigrant David Miliband resigned from his post as a result of the new man’s political history and possibly due to the Fascist edition of the Bayeux Tapestry tattooed onto the former West Ham striker’s back. Even amidst protests from the Durham Miners’ Association the manager refused to deny or denounce his position at the high-right side of the political compass.

The Sunderland faithful will always have their 3-0 victory over an abysmal Newcastle side in Di Canio’s second game in charge but in truth it merely papered over the cracks. Dismal teams like Aston Villa and West Brom were capable of making Sunderland appear embarrassingly toothless in attack and as helpless as the runt of the pack in defence.

30 million pounds was spent during the summer to bring in a total of 14 new players while other leading figures like Simon Mignolet and Danny Rose were either sold or handed back to their parent club. Di Canio was never expected to mould his new squad together in the first month of the season however his methods never would have. Criticising your own players tends to be a recipe for disaster, there’s a reason Arsene Wenger and Alex Ferguson tend to over-achieve with the squads at their disposal. In order to criticise players even in private you must first earn their respect. Di Canio completely neglected this. Conor Wickham was “the playboy model”, the foreign signings criticised for a lack of English, while he ridiculed the idea that he apologised to John O’Shea after describing the captain’s sending-off in the limp loss to Crystal Palace as "absolutely poor and unacceptable". Di Canio was the self-righteous GAA supporter frowning upon soccer stars due to the money they earn, completely ignorant to the fact that they, as human being can be rubbed the wrong, and indeed the right way.

In his defence he likened his approach to that of Ferguson, pointing to the fourth rule in the Scot’s recent blueprint for successful management, “never, ever cede control”. However point five negated Di Canio’s argument. “No one likes to be criticised. Most respond to encouragement. For any human being there is nothing better than hearing 'Well done'”. Ferguson was the master of motivating his players through a mixture of private criticism and public backing. Andy Cole tells a story of being absolutely berated in the dressing room by his manager only to be on the receiving end of friendly jokes for the rest of the week leading up to the next match. Such warmth gave his players an extra 20% in Cole’s opinion.

Last season Stephane Sessegnon was beginning to show signs of discontent around the squad, a decline running parallel with Sunderland’s slide southwards in the league table. While Martin O’Neill’s tactical approach had gone stale, his vigorous ability to spark motivation into his men still lingered over the squad. After a comforting conversation with his manager the Benin international regained his status as the team’s figurehead and sole creative outlet. This was something Di Canio could never and will never be able to replicate. Once the sacking was announced last night West Brom’s Gareth McAuley and Norwich’s Anthony Pilkington began tweeting of celebrations in the Sunderland squad, clearly aware of the discontent in the dressing room. One young recruit, El Hadji Ba was blunt in his reaction. “LOL”.

Sessegnon was one of the lucky ones who got away from the former Lazio leader’s talons. Fortunately he was shipped off to West Brom where, inspired by having his reputation slurred in the Italian’s press conference, he aptly delivered the last rights to Il Duce’s managerial career. A little motivation can go a long way.

Monday, 9 September 2013

Lack of Support leads to lack of Sporting Credibility.

It was the most Irish of statements, brandished bullshit devoid of balls and honesty, delivered in front of an audience who ultimately contribute towards Liam Sheedy’s pay cheque on this the most glorious of Sunday afternoons. “If you're following by the rules it could be a red card”, akin to a politician of the early noughties defending a brown envelope because on the night the champagne ended up tasting that bit sweeter. The RTE panel comprising of three GAA men ignore the conclusive evidence that Shane O’Neill should have seen red after striking Clare full-forward Darach Honan with tremendous insolence, again proving that despite the vast changes brought about by transforming from a rural, traditional country to a modern state, the self-regarded cultural organisation like no other worldwide remains “a mirror in which the Irish nation can always see its true face” as the sociologist Liam Ryan suggested. The coverage of the incident by the analysts can only be defined as negligent; brushing off what could have been the decisive moment on All Ireland Final day; however considering the hurling summer that has passed this seems rather fitting. The reason for Brian Gavin’s error in booking both players involved in the Cork square traces back to the middle of July.

Hurling is the most exhilarating sport in the world, rarely allowing the amazed spectator a second to catch their breath. The skill level of modern athletes in the sport is nothing short of amazing; from Tony Kelly swaying his hips and slipping through a swarm of Limerickmidfielders before bisecting the posts from 65 meters out or Joe Canning popping passes blind behind his back to a teammate; these feats would translate to awe-inspired individuals across the world had they access to the sport. However the physical requirements of hurlers in modern times is perhaps even more astonishing, with thirty finely-tuned machines masquerading as amateurs taking to the gargantuan (145x88 meters) stage of Croke Park in August each year. 22 of the 30 starters yesterday were 25 or under, emphasising its status as an energetic, young man’s game. With the details mentioned most acknowledge that perfection will never be found in the refereeing of a match, particularly considering hurling’s allowance for a high level of physical contact.

The most the GAA can do is offer its referees assistance and backing as most sane sporting organisations do, informing them of areas they believe require improvement in the interest of player safety and attempting to alter the referees interpretations towards decision making. This is something they did at the turn of the new year, instructing the men in the middle to punish striking to the head and groin area with more severity than recent years. James McGrath of Westmeath received these guidelines and appropriately took action in the Munster Final by sending of Rebel Patrick Horgan for striking Paudie O’Brien prior to half-time, a decision which had a massive bearing on Limerick’s deserved provincial success that day.

Yet despite receiving backing from former referees, the head of the National Refereeing Committee’s head Pat McEnaney and indeed the rulebook (5.2 To strike or to attempt to strike an opponent with a hurley, with minimal force. Penalty: Minimum 4 weeks suspension inclusive of the next Game even if that game falls outside the suspension time period) McGrath was undermined by those above him. Cork’s appeal over the decision was successful; McGrath was pilloried by those above him and the sport lost credibility due to those responsible for its welfare.

One of last years All Ireland referees wasn’t enough however, there was time to belittle Barry Kelly (James McGrath took charge of the replay) following Kilkenny’s quarter final defeat at the hands of the aforementioned Pat Horgan at the beginning of August. On the back of a cringe-worthy media campaign which was as vomit inducing as Irishness can be, justice for Henry was plucked at the expense of yet another elite-level man in black. Nobody argues that there is a room for criticism in the refereeing of the sport, defeated manager Brian Cody seemed to find a balance in his post-match comments that day. Yet continually ceding ground to popular opinion at the expense of an adequate level of governance is detrimental to any sport.

Decisions for the masses without an adequate legal foundation contradict fairness, one value included in the ethos of gaelic games. Brian Gavin was petrified of being hung out to dry by his bosses yesterday having seen the Horgan and Shefflin incidents play out in public so instead played his hand safe, keeping controversy at an arm’s length instead of confidently backing his judgement like McGrath and Kelly before him.

By coining an early red card ‘anti-sport’ and suggesting it unjustly ruins an occasion like yesterday’s we may as well tear up the rulebook and let a primal brawl commence with the last man standing leading his team to victory. Sending off Cork’s number three yesterday may have poured all his effort over the past twelve months down the drain but by offering him our sympathy in our decision making we’re negating Clare’s right to a level playing field. Clare may or may not have run away with victory had Cork been reduced to 14 men but they deserved the opportunity to find out, regardless of it pissing all over the spectacle. Shane O’Neill ruined the final in the first fifteen minutes yesterday only to have the fortune of the GAA’s summer antics save him in return for some of sport’s credibility.