Since he burst controversially into the Stadium of Light dugout, Paolo di Canio has been box office. His knee sliding, air punching celebrations have endeared him to the Sunderland faithful but his latest press conference has placed him on a narrow, treacherous path as we head into the summer transfer window.
His public shaming of the culture amongst the squad has pleased the majority of fans who have grown sick of season after season of mediocrity and in the case of this year, dangerous flirting with the bottom three. However it is unlikely the players share the fans enthusiasm.
In an explosive post match conference at White Hart Lane on Sunday, di Canio confirmed he had fined seven players in the previous week, something that the player’s union, the PFA, have announced they will look into. Phil Bardsley is almost certain never to play for Sunderland again after the pictures of him covered in money angered the Italian. Titus Bramble and Matt Kilgallon have also fallen foul of the new regime.
On the face of it there is little to say against di Canio’s tactics. He has inherited a group of players who clearly have grown used to having a pretty easy life. Fitness and energy levels were poor and judging by di canio’s descriptions of what he has found in his first few weeks, the level of professionalism at the club was incredibly low.
In his outburst he spoke of two players who arrived 20 minutes late for a meeting and did not seem to care. He mentioned one player who declared himself unfit for training and promptly switched his phone off so as to be uncontactable by the club’s medical staff. If these stories are true, and there is little to nothing for di Canio to gain by lying, then there were clearly serious problems at the club.
And yet, as with most things in modern football, it is not that simple. By publicly slating not only individuals but also the general culture at the club, di Canio has set his stall out very clearly. Those not willing to tow his line are not welcome. The complexity in the situation is the players. Those who are unwilling to embrace the new methodology are likely to be on good contracts and not that willing to leave in a cut price deal. And having players hanging around a club where they are not welcome is never a good situation.
There is also the probability that not all of those who do accept the changes are going to be good enough players to improve Sunderland. After all there is more to a good side than professionalism. Sunderland have lacked quality this season and if players such as Stephane Sessegnon and Adam Johnson decide they do not like the challenge of working with di Canio then almost all of what little quality there is will have gone.
And so the challenge for the fiery Italian is one of balance. He must create an environment where unprofessional behaviour is not tolerated whilst making Sunderland an attractive place not only for those already at the club but also potential new signings. He must also balance the undoubted desire of the fans to see a full scale revolution sweep the club with the practicalities of being in charge of a top flight football club. Whatever happens this summer on Wearside I doubt it will be dull.