It seems to be one of the guarantees of the modern English football season. Managers sacked by ruthless owners in an ever-increasing competitive business. And this season has been no exception.
Nigel Adkins was shown the door by Premier League new-comers Southampton, despite taking them from 22nd in League One to England’s top division in just over two years.
And the soap opera at Blackburn Rovers continued when club legend Henning Berg was dismissed after just fifty seven days on the job.
But undoubtedly one of the most disappointing managerial developments of the season came this week at the County Ground, where Paolo Di Canio announced that he was considering his position as Swindon Town manager. The Wiltshire side has run into financial difficulties this season, and only narrowly avoided entering administration after being taken over by a local consortium at the end of January.
However, Di Canio was still prevented from making 3 signings on transfer deadline day as the Football League ruled the sale of the club had not yet been finalized. This led to the Italian’s announcement of the consideration of his managerial position. He described his position as “untenable,” and also announced his disappointment at a number of decisions being made by the club without his consent, particularly the sale of top scorer and last season’s player of the year Matt Ritchie to promotion rivals Bournemouth.
Di Canio has worked wonders at the League One club since taking over in May 2011 following their relegation to League Two. Although it was his first coaching role in England, it proved a shrewd appointment as Di Canio led the Robins to a League Two title in his first season in charge, meaning they were promoted back to League One at the first attempt.
This in itself was an impressive achievement considering how other teams relegated to England’s bottom division have fared in recent seasons. Out of the four sides that were relegated from League One in the 2010/11 season, Di Canio’s Swindon were the only team to mount a successful promotion campaign the following year.
In fact, the other three teams (Bristol Rovers, Dagenham and Redbridge, and Plymouth Argyle) have all struggled for stability and have languished towards the bottom end of the League Two table since relegation.
But it’s also Di Canio’s off the field antics that would also make his departure all the more sad. The 44 year old is one of the few characters remaining in English football with a more unorthodox yet refreshing approach to the game.
He is of course famed for winning FIFA’s fair play award in 2001, when he decided to catch the ball rather than score into an empty net when opposition goalkeeper Paul Gerrard was lying on the floor injured.
And the former West Ham and Sheffield Wednesday striker has continued to show he is not afraid to resort to unconventional methods in his management career when necessary. After finding his side 2-0 down within ten minutes to Preston North End in September, Di Canio decided to substitute his goalkeeper, Wes Foderingham, with 20 minutes of the first half still remaining, a decision which was widely criticised by Swindon fans.
Di Canio responded by offering to refund the money supporters had paid for their season tickets and also advised them to go and support their rivals, Oxford United, if they disagreed with his approach. He also offered to donate £30,000 of his own money last month in order to keep hold of his loan players after being told he would be given no extra funds for the January transfer window.
In short, Di Canio is everything as a manager that he was as a player.
Eccentric. Ruthless. Probably an official’s worst nightmare.
But he is also extremely talented and clearly appreciates and cares deeply for the club that employs him and the fans that adore him. He is also guaranteed entertainment that also draws some much needed and much deserved media attention to English football’s lower league, and perhaps more importantly, has turned around the fortunes of a club that was in danger of free fall.
In summary, Di Canio has had an instrumental impact at his first English club as manager, and for it to end on such a blunt and unworthy note would truly be one of the season’s greatest tragedies.