Paulo Di Canio

James McClean deemed surplus goods at Sunderland; Wigan’s bid accepted

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Paulo Di Canio has called time on the James McClean project at Sunderland after accepting an undisclosed bid from Championship side Wigan.

The deal confirms McClean’s fate as surplus goods under Di Canio’s regime, which has brought in nine fresh faces into the fold, including Italian winger Emanuel Giaccherini from Juventus.

McClean joined Sunderland in August 2011 from Northern Ireland side Derry City as a player that then-manager Steve Bruce claimed was “one for the future.” Bruce figured the winger would begin in the youth development side and eventually make his way up.

But McClean had other plans and by December, he had looked a real find. With Bruce out and Martin O’Neill in, the Republic of Ireland international was brought on as a substitute in O’Neill’s first game with the club. Down 1-0 to Blackburn, McClean’s ferocious hunger and athleticism spurred the Black Cats to turn the match on its head, winning 2-1.

McClean went on to prove himself a menace on the left side of the pitch, notching five goals and two assists in just one half of a season, earning him Sunderland’s Young Player of the Year Award for 2011–12. For the $541,000 (£350k) it cost to bring McClean to the Premier League, he was arguably one of the bargain signings of the season.

But the fall was as quick as the rise, as McClean’s 2012-13 campaign was one to forget. Defenders quickly learned that his first touch was one of a brick when closed down quickly. What served as grit and determination in 2011-12 quickly turned to frustration for McClean. The boy had an edge, no doubt, but he also had a temper that reared its head at all the wrong times.

While Di Canio’s overhaul of the Black Cats makes it little surprise that McClean has gotten axed, it is a little curious given their similarities that the fiery Italian did not look to take McClean under his wing. But, sometimes similarities clash rather than gel and at the end of the day, it’s all a business. i

McClean still has talent though and could make quite an impact in the Championship. His pending arrival could also indicate that the Latics are not yet done dealing in this summer’s transfer market, and that Callum McManaman or Shaun Maloney could be on their way out of the DW Stadium.

Once personal terms are agreed to and a medical is passed, McClean will join a family of James’ in Owen Coyle’s midfield, alongside fellow namesakes McCarthy and McArthur.

Di Canio offered to sacrifice himself but Sunderland owner refused

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Sunderland manager Paolo Di Canio has revealed that following the outrage that ensued over his appointent as manager of the Black Cats, he offered to walk away from the Stadium of Light.

As most will recall, Di Canio’s political alignments – and in particular his alleged affinity for fascism – were all the rage following his appointment by chairman Elliot Short. Things got so heavy that the Italian manager told Short, in his own special ‘Di Canio speak’, that he was happy to part ways if that’s what the owner wanted.

“I told him, ‘Tell me what I have to do. Bye bye. No problem, because I do not want to be a problem for the club’,” Di Canio told the Independent on Sunday. “If I don’t represent a problem for you I am okay, I am ready to handle the pressure. It is no pressure for me.

“All day rubbish me, I don’t care. It is my life, but if you think ‘mmm, probably yeah, I let you be free’, I don’t want nothing and I go’.

“He said, ‘Absolutely, you have to stay. You are our man.’

“That for me was enough. Refocus. I will never forget what he did. He gave me a big chance of my dream to become manager at the top level. . . . In this moment, he did not give up, he gave me 100 per cent, 200 per cent support. He convinced me to stay because he said you are our man. He is the owner, he picked me. I can’t forget for the rest of my life, no matter what happens in the future.”

Retaining Di Canio has proven to be a good decision by Short as the manager has taken seven of a possible 12 points since arriving at the Stadium of Light. In his very first match as boss, Di Canio let his presence be known as he jumped, dance, chest-banged, knee-slid and fist-pumped his way to a 3-0 shellacking of rivals Newcastle in the Tyne-Wear derby.

Di Canio’s antics and inspiration erased the crippling lack of confidence that draped the Black Cats during the final days of Martin O’Neill’s reign. If the win wasn’t enough to convince Mackems of his personality and ideals, his post-match comments concerning his mother, who passed away exactly one year before the win, endeared him to the Sunderland faithful. “Before the kick-off, I saw the face of my Mama smiling. . . . Mama was special today, so my dedication goes to her today, to my Mam.”

Following the derby win Di Canio kept the good times rolling with a deserved 1-0 victory over Everton. It was a match that set off raucous celebrations at the Stadium of Light and sealed the Toffees fate of not qualifying for Champions League. Perhaps high on confidence, the Black Cats were stung by Villa 6-1 the following week before coming from behind to snag a point last Monday night against Stoke.

With two matches left to play in the 2012-13 season, Sunderland are still in the thick of a relegation battle. Three points above the drop on 38 points, a home victory today against Southampton would secure the Black Cats a spot in next year’s Premier League.

And with a difficult final match away at Tottenham, Di Canio’s side will be hard-pressed to take all three points today.

If Sunderland are unable to stay up Di Canio could find himself right back on the hot-seat. But if so, he’ll remain dedicated to the Sunderland cause. “Next year I hope I can be here. You never know what is going on in life.”

ProSoccerTalk’s Premier League Narratives (Matchweek 32)

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What a week in the Premier League!

The narratives have been flying high like Adrian Mutu on a Wednesday night in Florence – Nigel Adkins seeks revenge, Andy Carroll is no longer in Liverpool’s plans (again), Gareth Bale nearly snaps off his ankle, Chris Samba is an overpaid lump, Yaya Toure loves money, Paulo Di Canio is a fascist, Paulo Di Canio is not a fascist, and Paulo Di Canio may or may not be a little bit confused over the definition of fascism but nevertheless won’t be mixing politics with football.

Whew. Right then.

Here are the detailed narratives for Matchweek 32 in the English Premier League. Enjoy the matches!

READING v. SOUTHAMPTON (Madejski Stadium, Sat 7:45am ET)
Live TV: ESPN2; ESPN3; ESPND
Odds: Reading 9/4; Southampton 6/5; Draw 5/2

Reading manager Nigel Adkins faces his former club hoping to stop the bleeding at seven straight loses but don’t expect Mauricio Pochetino’s side to show any sympathy. The Saints are looking to shed their “giant-killer” reputation after recent victories over Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea has coincided with painful losses to Norwich QPR and Wigan.

Reading is down and out, now Southampton will kill them off. Saints cruise here.

NORWICH CITY v. SWANSEA CITY (Carrow Road, Sat 10:00am ET)
Live TV: Fox Soccer 2Go
Odds: Norwich 8/5; Swansea 7/4; Draw 23/10

Both clubs have struggled of late but it’s Swansea who comfortably sit 9th in the table on 40 points. Norwich aren’t so lucky – despite being 14th in the table and tied on points with 12th place Southampton, Chris Houghton’s side are only four points clear of the drop meaning this match will be a must-win if late season drama is to be avoided.

I’ve got little hope for this fixture. Feels like a drab 0-0 or 1-1 draw.

STOKE CITY v. ASTON VILLA (Britannia Stadium, Sat 10:00am ET)
Live TV: Fox Soccer 2Go
Odds: Stoke 21/20; Villa 11/4; Draw 47/20

Losing four of their last five and having only taken five points since December has some folks at the Britannia convinced that Tony Pulis has taken the club as far as he can in his five years as a Premier League boss. On Saturday his Potters face an up-start Villa side that’s playing a confident brand of football despite it’s seat in the relegation zone.

Stoke are never easy at home but Paul Lambert has his squad clicking. Look for Villa to get a result.

WEST BROMWICH ALBION v. ARSENAL (The Hawthorns, Sat 10:00am ET)
Live TV: Fox Soccer
Odds: West Brom 3/1; Arsenal 10/11; Draw 13/5

The door is closing fast on West Brom’s shot at a place in the Europa League and a win against Arsenal would be a major boost to the Baggies’ hopes. But it won’t come easy for Steve Clark’s men as the 5th place Gunners have their eye on a spot in Europe’s biggest tournament. Three points and a Chelsea loss would see Arsenal leapfrog the Blues into 4th place but with Jack Wilshire and Theo Walcott both doubtful, Arsene Wenger’s side has its work cut out for it.

Since Munich this has been a different Arsenal side. The Gunners take this in a classy performance.

LIVERPOOL v. WEST HAM UNITED (Anfield, Sun 8:30am ET)
Live TV: Fox Soccer Plus
Odds: Liverpool 20/63; West Ham 8/1; Draw 9/2

Aside from the blip at Southampton a fortnight ago Liverpool have been cruising of late, winning four of their last five. The 7th place Reds face a Jekyll-and-Hyde West Ham team that was brilliant in last week’s 3-1 demolition of West Brom, courtesy of an Andy Carroll brace. But the Geordie won’t be available against his parent club leaving Marouane Chamakh or Carlton Cole the likely candidates to deputize.

The Hammers are gonna get hammered. Mark it down.

TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR v. EVERTON (White Hart Lane, Sun 9:05am ET)
Live TV: Fox Soccer; ESPN (UK)
Odds: Spurs 5/6; Everton 13/4; Draw 27/10

Sixth place Everton square off with 3rd place Tottenham in a match of epic proportions. David Moyes’ side will once again be without the suspended Marouane Fellaini and Steven Pienaar while Kevin Mirallas is doubtful with a thigh injury. Spurs have their own personnel issues with Gareth Bale, Aaron Lennon, William Gallas, Sandro, Jermain Defoe and Younes Kaboul all out injured. An Everton win combined with an Arsenal loss would send the Toffees into 5th place while Spurs will need a result to fend off 4th place Chelsea, who sit just two points back.

Spurs were run ragged in Thursday’s Europa League contest with FC Basel. Expect Everton to get a result.

CHELSEA v. SUNDERLAND (Stamford Bridge, Sun 10:00am ET)
Live TV: Fox Soccer 2Go
Odds: Chelsea 5/17; Sunderland 9/1; Draw 9/2

Fresh off their 3-1 Europa League victory over Rubin Kazan 4th place Chelsea faces a Sunderland squad that sits just one point above the drop zone. Rafa Benitez’ men will be hungry for the three points that could see them overtake Tottenham for 3rd place but with Paulo Di Canio at the helm for the Black Cats don’t expect this to be the same old Sunderland.

It might not be pretty but the Blues will get the job done.

NEWCASTLE UNITED v. FULHAM (St James’ Park, Sun 10:00am ET)
Live TV: Fox Soccer 2Go
Odds: Newcastle 1/1; Fulham 11/4; Draw 5/2

Newcastle’s double duty of playing in the Europa League and the Premiership has taken its toll with Alan Pardew’s men losing four of their last six and slipping all the way to 15th in the table. With merely 33 points to their name the Magpies could be in for a rude awakening if Wigan, Sunderland and/or Villa pull off wins this weekend. Fulham, on the other hand, continue their comfortable stroll that has seen the Cottagers go unbeaten in their last five matches.

Newcastle have the motive but they are beaten and battered. Fulham gets a result here.

QUEENS PARK RANGERS v. WIGAN ATHLETIC (Loftus Road, Sun 10:00am ET)
Live TV: Fox Soccer; Sky Sports 1
Odds: QPR 13/10; Wigan 21/10; Draw 47/20

With seven matches to play and seven points from safety it’s do-or-die for Harry Redknapp’s side. The Rangers dropped points last Monday at Fulham after some shambolic defending and will need to tighten things up if they hope to squeeze any points out of a high-flying Wigan side that’s won three of its last four matches.

QPR will have one last push this season and it begins this Saturday. Double down on the R’s to take this one.

MANCHESTER UNITED v. MANCHESTER CITY (Old Trafford, Mon 3:00pm ET)
Live TV: ESPN; Sky Sports 1
Odds: United 6/5; City 47/20; Draw 12/5

It goes without saying that the Manchester Derby is the crown jewel of Matchweek 32 but the hype around this fixture is a bit subdued given United’s league dominance. The Citizens, boosted by Yaya Toure signing a new four year deal at the club, are looking to exact revenge for last December’s 3-2 defeat and prove that United’s 15 point lead isn’t indicative of the difference between the two sides.

City feel like they have a lot to prove here – and rightfully so. Roberto’s men take the three points.

Paulo Di Canio brings his fire to Sunderland

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Former Swindon Town boss Paolo Di Canio has been appointed head coach of Sunderland. The 44-year-old agreed to a two-and-a-half-year deal with the Black Cats to succeed Martin O’Neill, who was sacked by chairman Ellis Short following Saturday’s 1-0 loss to Manchester United.

Di Canio enters the fold with seven matches remaining and one clear objective – keep Sunderland in the Premier League. At just one point above the relegation zone and with a challenging remaining schedule (Chelsea, Newcastle, Everton, Aston Villa, Stoke, Southampton and Spurs), the job won’t be easy. But Di Canio, who has no-top flight managerial experience, is well-known for a firey passion that Short believes is the key ingredient for his club’s success.

“Paolo is hugely enthused by the challenge that lies ahead of him. He is passionate, driven and raring to get started,” Short said. “The sole focus of everyone for the next seven games will be to ensure we gain enough points to maintain our top-flight status. I think that the chances of that are greatly increased with Paolo joining us.”

Former Sunderland defender Michael Gray echoed Short’s words, admitting he is pleased to see the animated 44-year-old bring his zeal to the Stadium of Light. “He is bonkers but great for the Premier League and I hope he gets it right,” Gray said. “It’s going to be entertaining if nothing else and if he can get a win in the Tyne-Wear derby it could be like Jose Mourinho running down the touchline.”

After a stunning 23 year playing career, Di Canio was hired at Swindon in 2011 and spent 21 months at the club. Last season he secured promotion out of League Two and when he stepped down in February 2013 (citing off-the-field issues) he left the club in a League One play-off position.

Following his stint at Swindon, Di Canio proclaimed himself ready for the next level. “I believe I am at a stage now where I am a Premier League or Championship manager,” the Italian said. “I have already proven my ability in League Two and League One, where there are many arrogant and average players and I was able to turn [around] their mentality and help them become better footballers.”

The turn around will have to come quick if Sunderland are to avoid the drop. The Black Cats have gone eight matches without a win and recently suffered a huge blow when captain Lee Catermole and leading-scorer Steven Fletcher were ruled out for the season. Confidence, rather than arrogance, appears to be Sunderland’s biggest problem.

Di Canio’s hiring did not arrive without controversy as Sunderland’s vice-chairman and non-executive director, David Milibrand, immediately resigned from his post stating, “In the light of the new manager’s past political statements, I think it right to step down.” The political statements Milibrand refers to arise out of a 2005 interview that Di Canio gave to Italian news agency ANSA where he admitted to having fascist leanings. “I am a fascist, not a racist,” Di Canio explained.

Whether those two positions are mutually exclusive is debatable. But one thing’s for sure, things just got a lot more interesting at Sunderland.