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It’s a Do or Die Season for Sunderland Manager Paolo Di Canio

In August, Sunderland manager Paolo Di Canio begins his first full season at Sunderland, a club which has finished in the bottom half of the Premier League table four times in the last five years (in 2011, the club finished tenth). This consistency is pretty remarkable.

Since securing promotion in 2008, Sunderland has raised transfer-window schizophrenia to a new art. Last summer, the club signed 12 players. During the summer of 2011, it signed 13. Of the 14 players who participated in Sunderland’s first game of the 08/09 season, only Phil Bardsley remains on the team. This off-season, Sunderland have already signed ten players, including American striker Jozy Altidore – and it’s only July. Di Canio is the team’s third coach in three years.

Moreover, mediocrity is pretty hard to sustain. Only three of the ten teams that finished in the bottom half in 2009 still play Premier League football, and two of those three have finished in the top eight at least once since 2010. Sunderland is the odd club out.

Sunderland hires a new coach and buys a new XI virtually every summer – but never experiences the high highs and low lows that scattergun buying usually provides. Unlike crosstown rival Newcastle, which signs lots of players and finishes all over the place (relegated in 2009, promoted in 2010, 12th in 2011, fifth in 2012, 16th in 2013), Sunderland is profoundly reliable, arguably the Premier League’s most predictable non-powerhouse.

There’s no way Di Canio, whose rampant volatility has turned him into a cult hero, will allow this to continue. His teams don’t finish 13th; either they play well or they fail spectacularly. Either he unites the dressing room or he punches Leon Clarke.

Either the trains run on time or something blows up.

Read more by David Yaffe-Bellany at In For The Hat Trick and follow him on Twitter @INFTH.

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  1. Felix

    July 30, 2013 at 9:40 am

    This whole reliability angle the journalist has going on doesn’t really look all that far back. I mean stating Newcastle to be the bouncing ball is further than I would go.

    Season 2002/03 Sunderland was relegated with a record low amount of points, gathering only 19 throughout the season. They came back up through the championship. Only to beat their own record for least points amassed gathering only 15 in 06/07.

    I guess you could call that being reliable too.

    • Felix

      July 30, 2013 at 9:48 am

      Maybe it’s just a gut feeling given the track record. But Newcastle is a team with inherent buoyancy, while Sunderland may drop like a stone.

  2. Pete Q

    July 28, 2013 at 4:07 pm

    I watched both of Sunderland’s matches during the Asia Cup. They are one of the stories that have gone under the radar this year.

    Everyone seems to be talking about the managerial changes and transfers at other clubs. There isn’t a lot of coverage of Di Canio and they ins and outs at his club.

    I don’t think Sunderland is going to have the relegation worries they had last season. If they stay injury-free, they could very well finish 10-12 in the league.

    Di Canio brought in a bunch of players who are going to run, press, and play they socks off for 90 minutes. Through the early matches that I’ve seen, they are a reflection of their manager. For me (as a coach), that is very exciting to see.

    They are going to surprise a few teams this year.

    • Pete Q

      July 28, 2013 at 4:21 pm

      And in my opinion, I don’t think the season is “do or die” for Di Canio. He’s changing a football culture at a club and I think he has the backing of the administration.

      If you can listen to what he’s saying (it can be hard with his accent and broken English), he is well thought out and has a vision for how players should act within a club.

      Not every player is going to want to play for him…and that’s fine. The ones who do are going to buy into his philosophy and make the Sunderland supporters proud.

      If you have the time, listen to his last press conference from this past season. It gives you a slight insight to what was going on at the club….what he inherited.

      • Cantona

        July 28, 2013 at 7:21 pm

        Agreed. Don’t know what the author is on about “do or die season”.. This article doesn’t make sense


        • Christopher Harris

          July 28, 2013 at 7:58 pm

          To be fair, I wrote the headline to illustrate the point that Di Canio will “live or die” by the changes he’s made this summer in the transfer market. If successful, he may have a bright future ahead of him as a manager in Europe.

          • Felix

            July 30, 2013 at 9:42 am

            Any manager that buys 10 new players for a season is putting himself on the line if things go wrong. Look at Hughes in QPR last season. Surely it’s a gamble that can get you sacked.

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