Given a player revolt helped see Paolo Di Canio out of Sunderland, the motivations of the former Black Cats’ boss are clear. That he can’t stifle those motivations and see his career’s bigger picture speaks to why he failed in his first Premier League job. It also casts doubts on whether he’s suitable for a second.
Speaking to English media on Sunday, the 45-year-old former West Ham United attacker called Lee Cattermole and Phil Bardsley “the most unprofessional players” he’d every worked with. He labeled John O’Shea “two-faced” and criticized striker Steven Fletcher for smiling in training. While claiming text messages show he had the support for up to 14 members of the Sunderland squad (a group perhaps largely made up of players he helped acquired this in this summer), Di Canio says the “weak” mentality of his former squad keeps Sunderland in a relegation battle.
The Guardian has more on comments that follow reports Di Canio called Sunderland’s players “cowards,” starting a weekend fit that’s cast the embittered Italian back in the spotlight. Strident, outspoken, and politically controversial, Di Canio never has trouble drawing the media’s attention, but doing so to belittle his former players only highlights why he’s so unsuitable for another top-level assignment.
To Di Canio, O’Shea’s apologizes to his teammates after criticizing them to their manager makes him two-faced. To others, that would indicate a level of openness, even sympathy. Not allowing Steven Fletcher to smile on the training pitch hints Di Canio can’t conceive of a player able to adequately prepare himself while having fun. And criticisms of Phil Bardsley’s now infamous casino pictures portray a man unable to reconcile off-field flaws with a potential to help a club on the field.
This is far too rigid of an approach for a man who wants another job managing immature men, usually from a variety of different countries, some of whom have spent their lives living free of real-life adversity thanks to their physical talents. It hints at a lack of respect for anybody who approaches the world in a different way than his own. Being open with teammates, smiling while training, and being photographed rolling in £50 bills aren’t debilitating character flaws. They’re signs of kindness, whimsy, and an immature, potentially temporary lack of perspective.
A manager should be expected to overcome all of these obstacles. They’re amongst the smaller challenges he’ll face during his employment. If Di Canio can’t navigate these issues without eventually circling back and branding his former players unprofessional and cowardly, why should another club expect him to employ a more viable approach with their team?