Di Canio has failed to address Sunderland problems

A more recent piece I wrote about the not so surprising authoritarian management style of PDC…

Despite their similar records as Sunderland manager, Martin O’Neill winning two of his last 11 league games in charge, and Paolo Di Canio two in his first 10, there is a great, fist-pumping knee-slide at St James’ Park worth of difference which separates their affections in Mackem hearts.

Any initial doubts about Di Canio’s tempestuousness and dubious political views were set aside after a rollicking 3-0 victory at rivals Newcastle in only his second game in charge. Despite an indifferent end to the season, this result alone had earned the fans’ faith, and Di Canio assured fans that he would lead an overhaul of the squad over the summer.

Areas in need of improvement were obvious; an over-reliance on the goals of Steven Fletcher, a lack of quality full-backs and a same-y, one paced midfield. Di Canio called for players with better temperament, after spending much of his first months in charge lambasting the squad he inherited for laziness, ill-discipline and a lack of commitment.

Di Canio’s words soon led to action off the pitch. The appointment of Roberto de Fanti as director of football and Valentino Angeloni as chief scout heralded a complete transformation in the club’s scouting network, with only one member of staff remaining from the old set-up. A change of recruitment policy was sensible; neighbours Newcastle have proven the need for mid-sized Premier League clubs to look further afield for additional quality and value.

The new set-up worked quickly to bring in players early in the summer, with nine new faces drafted in before August, including the surprise coup of Emanuele Giaccherini from Juventus and the highly-rated Cabral and Mobido Diakite.

The weak areas of the squad were addressed, Sunderland paying £6million for striker Jozy Altidore from AZ Alkmaar, who, despite enduring a torrid spell at Hull City in the 2009-10 season, impressed in Eredivisie. Young recruits were bought in the form of Duncan Watmore, David Moberg Karlsson and most notably El-Hadji Ba, who arrived highly rated and coveted by bigger Premier League clubs.

So far so good, and although only one point from games against Fulham and Southampton wasn’t what Di Canio would have hoped for, he stressed that, once his new players adapted to the specific demands of the Premier League, results would improve, although the lack of imagination in his side’s play must have been a concern.

But then came a close scare in the Capital One Cup against MK Dons, and, last weekend, a horror-show performance against Crystal Palace, characterised by sloppy, misplaced passes and individual errors. Perhaps most concerning of all was the re-emergence of the same old Sunderland frailties, a meek forward line dependent on a half-fit Steven Fletcher, slow, ponderous build-up play and a failure to get the most from key players such as Giaccherini and Adam Johnson.

And it doesn’t feel like the revolution off the pitch is being backed up by the manager. Already known for his passionate outbursts against his own players, Di Canio seems to have ramped it up another notch this season, whether effectively labelling Ji Dong Won a coward only days after underlining his importance to the squad, or deriding captain John O’Shea for giving away a penalty at Selhurst Park.

He seems to be constantly exasperated, as though powerless to do anything to “change the heart” of his players. He frequently bemoans a perceived lack of desire and professionalism, but we still have no clear idea how he wants his side to play, and he has failed to identify tactical, or even general footballing reasons why his side haven’t played well.

His style of management seems to most marked by inconsistencies. Like how he refuses a causal link to be drawn between his stiff-alarmed salutes and Dux tattoo and an admiration for Italian fascism, he seems unable to recognise that his authoritarian, hectoring style of management may be leading to a poorly motivated squad.

Even though so much emphasis has been placed on discipline, this week Phil Bardsley has been brought back into the squad, despite being lambasted last season for a late-night casino visit and for mocking his side’s defeat on the opening day on Instagram.

After the display against Crystal Palace he spoke of a need for more new players to be brought in, and the arrivals of Ki, Fabio Borini and Andrea Dossena since that game do give him more options, and bring the number of summer arrivals to 14.

The sheer amount of players signed point to a success in the transfer window, but Sunderland still don’t have a massive squad, and it’s known that the likes of David Vaughan and Conor Wickham were touted around clubs as the window closed. Both will now have a role to play this season despite knowing the manager wanted them gone.

Ellis Short has clearly put his faith into Di Canio, whether its entrusting a relative novice with securing top-flight status, or allowing him the scope and budget to shape a new squad. Although changes in the club’s scouting approach are welcome and will pay long-term dividends, this is all dependent on Sunderland remaining in the Premier League.

Beyond banning ketchup, the club’s manager has so far done little to show how he is going to deliver that goal.

Read the original piece at Footyplace. 

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