Sunderland’s reputation has traditionally been of a club where principles count, deep roots in a working-class community are cherished and nourished and employees strive for a common cause not self-aggrandisement.
People are sensible, understated, not given to theatrics. From Raich Carter to Kevin Phillips, Sunderland have been associated with integrity. Paolo di Canio was an affront to that ethos.
Di Canio’s departure will not be mourned for long nor will his leaving-do require catering for many (canapés for one should suffice plus a cappuccino to go).
Any fair analysis of his 175 days must of course acknowledge that 3-0 vanquishing of Newcastle United, a result one fan immortalised in ink on his shoulder.
Wearside gratitude is also due Di Canio for helping preserve their Premier League status (although it needs mentioning they were 16th when he arrived and 17th when the season closed).
Otherwise, Di Canio’s association with Sunderland was an embarrassing stain of a chapter in a renowned club’s history while the uprising of a seething dressing room should be acclaimed at length in the archives.
Outbreaks of player power usually provoke concern. Not here. Not when they topple someone of Di Canio’s monumental ego and minimal man-management skills.
Sunderland players should be applauded. They did what was best for them – of course, they are players – but they also did what was right for the club.
And not just the club. These wealthy Wat Tylers of Wearside have done all of football a favour in ousting a manager with a big name, average résumé and pantomime-act propensities.
Sunderland’s stars stood up not just for players’ rights but also for all those honest managers who do not belittle their players in public, who do not shift blame elsewhere and who do not stand shamelessly in front of fans seeking sympathy.
“Poor old Paolo,’’ Di Canio seemed to be saying to the angry away section at the Hawthorns on Saturday. “It’s not my fault. It’s those cowardly players.’’
Faced with an agenda-driven manager standing 30 yards away when he should have been inside rebuilding his players’ confidence, Sunderland supporters called Di Canio’s bluff, some signalling where he could go, and it was not back to the North East.
Sunderland players also called Di Canio out, confronting him, some individually, but clearly collectively with the message relayed to the owner, Ellis Short, who acted decisively. For a manager who regularly accused his players of not taking responsibility, Di Canio never accepted responsibility himself.
He criticised his predecessor, Martin O’Neill, for the squad’s alleged lack of fitness. Nonsense. This season’s results hardly indicate that Di Canio has turned Sunderland into a troupe of booted Steve Crams.
He denounced players as lacking the “right attention and desire” and being “snobby and lazy” after he saw John O’Shea concede a penalty and Ji Dong-won shirk a header against Crystal Palace. He questioned their heart and professionalism, claims guaranteed to alienate those who could save his job.
He broke the dressing room code of omerta. Di Canio’s post-match utterances proved a farewell letter in instalments. Good riddance. Good managers such as Arsène Wenger, Jose Mourinho, David Moyes, Manuel Pellegrini, Andre Villas-Boas, Roberto Martinez, Brendan Rodgers, Michael Laudrup et al accept responsibility. They do not put on shows.
They are not fakes. They are men of substance. Even Mourinho understands the science behind his fabled verbal fireworks. It was an outrage to footballing etiquette that Di Canio could be allowed to occupy an adjacent dugout to men of scruples such as Wenger.
Di Canio’s friends claim he is an intelligent individual; if so, his antics were even more illogical and self-defeating. Prompted by the players, Short saw through him and dismissed the narcissist.
An incredibly shrewd businessman who made his fortune in hedge-funds, the Missouri-born Short willingly takes major decisions but not until he has taken advice and weighed up every pro and con. He is not the knee-jerk kind.
Parting company with O’Neill was taken only after much deliberation, and some soul-searching as Short liked the fascinating Ulsterman. But a feeling had grown within the Stadium of Light that O’Neill was not the same inspiring force without John Robertson as his No 2, sounding-board and buffer with players.
It was still a controversial call by Short, who felt vindicated when Sunderland stayed up. Now he has acted swiftly over Di Canio.