Paolo Di Canio is not welcome back at Sheffield Wednesday

Posted by on Oct 24, 2013 in Uncategorized | 3 Comments
Paolo Di Canio is not welcome back at Sheffield Wednesday

Today, we welcome back Sheffield Wednesday fan John Leigh, co-author of The Football Lexicon and author of Voltaire’s Sense of History. Here, John reacts to the rumours that are linking Paolo Di Canio with a return to Hillsborough.

My brother was at THAT infamous England vs Croatia game at Wembley. Remember the one: the Euro qualifier, the one we lost 3-2, the game in which Scott Carson blundered. But it would be easier simply to commemorate it as the game at which Steve McClaren stood under the umbrella and mutated into ‘the wally with the brolly’. When I spoke with my brother after the game, it was apparent that he did not know what I was talking about, when I expressed some sympathy for McClaren’s failure to show a common touch (apparently unlike Louis Philippe who got deliberately wet when meeting his subjects on tour in France). Funnily enough, he had not been looking at the manager on the touchline. It was apparent that we had rather different experiences of that match: He watched the game; I watched the television.

Our response to football matches and to the teams that contest them is being increasingly and, I think, unduly mediated by the conduct and appearance of the manager. Cameras are trained on him, after each and every goal, in a bid to gain cheap access to dramatic extremes of delight and despair. Those managers that do not oblige by endearing themselves in this way need to look out. McClaren made the twin mistake of sheltering himself against the rain and of appearing to be hiding from the cameras. Paolo Di Canio, by contrast, seems to have built a career on moments that beguile the camera. Such is the striker’s prerogative of course, and his finishes could be especially sublime. But his career as manager has exploited the same vein: Last season’s win against Newcastle is now memorable, I suspect, above all, for his touchline celebration (unless you were present at the game). I forget who scored Sunderland’s goals that day. I had nothing invested in that game when I watched the highlights, but felt sickened at the way the media gobbled up the idea that we were privileged to see a passionate man, breathing Italian fire into a moribund club. I saw the outburst rather as an insult to long-suffering Mackems. How could it mean so much to him after a mere few weeks in post? How dare he purport to simulate the joy of the fans so soon? I like passion when it’s quietly closer to its etymological cousin ‘patience’. Di Canio may, of course, be vulnerable to forgetting himself in the heat of the moment. But I have never seen a more accomplished player one-on-one with the goalkeeper (remember Fabien Barthez’s vain attempt to distract him), and I saw this as another cynical ploy.

The malaise brought back painful moments in the 1990s, when I wanted to like Di Canio, admired his talent, but earned the mockery of fellow Owls for daring to prefer the rudimentary abilities of Andy Booth and Graham Hyde. (Maybe they had a point with Hyde). Talent, of which Di Canio had obscene amounts, is obviously redemptive. But the badge-kissing, the telegenic tantrums (or tantra?) I found insufferable. He tended to be booked gratuitously, leading infallibly to suspensions over holiday periods. Again, something cynical seemed to be at work. The famous, culminating incident with Alcock might have looked comical, but it not only helped to relegate the team eventually but degrade the club. When the club management travelled over to Italy in an attempt to talk him into returning from his depression, a proud club reached a new low-point. Like the passion he acquired at little cost for Sunderland in that derby, the sudden depression trivialised the illnesses of those seriously in its thrall.

I am therefore horrified that his name should be whispered as that of a possible replacement for Dave Jones, who seems more embattled and weary by the day. PDC’s chief qualification would appear to be that of having played for the club, however briefly and notoriously. In the hard-nosed world of the Premier League, there are currently no managers who once played for their employer. Nevertheless, there remains a bizarre, if understandable sentimental compulsion to always consider a manager who played for the club: it’s undoubtedly useful to have someone who ‘knows his way round’ (so he won’t need to be told where the toilets are), ‘understands the culture at this club’ (so he would have a drink at Christmas with the kitman), but I think it’s one way of maintaining the pretence that there are yet continuities and loyalties in a world where our insatiable media not only record the shots, but have begun to call them.

The Two Unfortunates
The non-partisan website with an eye on the Football League

3 Comments

  1. Paolo Di Canio is not welcome back at Sheffield Wednesday | Scissors Kick
    October 27, 2013

    […] “Today, we welcome back Sheffield Wednesday fan John Leigh, co-author of The Football Lexicon and author of Voltaire’s Sense of History. Here, John reacts to the rumours that are linking Paolo Di Canio with a return to Hillsborough. … My brother was at THAT infamous England vs Croatia game at Wembley. Remember the one: the Euro qualifier, the one we lost 3-2, the game in which Scott Carson blundered. But it would be easier simply to commemorate it as the game at which Steve McClaren stood under the umbrella and mutated into ‘the wally with the brolly’. When I spoke with my brother after the game, it was apparent that he did not know what I was talking about, when I expressed some sympathy for McClaren’s failure to show a common touch (apparently unlike Louis Philippe who got deliberately wet when meeting his subjects on tour in France). Funnily enough, he had not been looking at the manager on the touchline. It was apparent that we had rather different experiences of that match: He watched the game; I watched the television.” thetwounfortunates […]

    Reply
  2. Ellie
    October 30, 2013

    As a Swindon fan, I feel it necessary to point out that Paolo may have been a tabloid’s wet dream – but he was far from incompetent. Man management etc (as proved at Sunderland) was awful, but in terms of knowing the game and the cliched “tactical nous”, you could do far worse than have a man like PDC in charge.

    I wouldn’t wamt him back at STFC, but painting him as a buffoon is still wide of the mark, IMO.

    Reply
  3. JJ
    December 3, 2013

    Not only would I welcome him back I’d pay to have him back… okay I don’t have much to pay but the fact is I’d by a season ticket at twice the price to have him back… as long as he has learnt the importance of compromise and fighting the battles that are worth winning…
    He was undermined at Sunderland by the media feeding frenzy over his appointment – the players sensed weakness from the offset so when the results started to go against them (some by bad luck) it became easy for the players to squirm away from his PDCs demands for commitment… he didn’t pick his battles well and he was not well suited to the regime – not having responsibility for player recruitment.
    As for the suggestion that he let Wednesday down as a player – he didn’t. Wednesday let him down by not supporting him because Richards did not want to jeopardise his FA ambitions. Di Canio did, by picking a battle with Wednesday (the manager and chairman) let the fans down… he should know that and that should be another driver (as if he needs one) for him to succeed.
    With the right club, a supportive chairman, and (maybe) a good right hand man, and time to shape a team that buy in to his philosophy he will have success…

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