Out with the old: Why I’d take Di Canio over Warnock & O’Neill any day:


Cynics might suggest that the prospect of this type of regime will terrify those who are newly working under its architect.  That belief owes everything to the stereotype of the high-maintenance modern day professional who wants for nothing and offers little in return.

There are elements of truth in that image, but what is often ignored is that today’s footballer expects a great deal more from their manager in terms of cutting-edge training and tactical savvy than ever before.  By nature, professional footballers come complete with a sizeable ego and that, allied to an inherent competitive edge, creates a compulsion for winning.

If a group of players can grasp at the excuse of poor and monotonous training or an inappropriate game-plan they will – illustrated by the multitude of uprisings from within the Chelsea dressing room during the Roman Abramovich era.

That same bunch will meticulously follow the brief of their leader if they can see an end reward.  When at Swindon Di Canio said;

‘I don’t want to say they (Swindon players) enjoy the extra training – they are not masochists – however nobody is moaning because they realise this extra training helps them to be as fit as possible.  I don’t force the players to follow me, but they do.  That proves I am not a slave driver’.

The portrait of Di Canio as a dressing room ranter and raver with nothing to offer beyond passion and drive is woefully inaccurate.  He possesses the UEFA Pro Licence – the ultimate managerial qualification – and has an enviable record to boast of from his previous job.  Naysayers might dismiss the considerable accomplishment of steering Swindon to the League Two title.  That is to overlook the voracious manner with which Di Canio attacked the challenge of adapting to life in a footballing environment that was entirely alien to him.

There is a weight of expectation at Sunderland which is not commensurate with a club that has delivered no silverware since 1973, when as a second division club they lifted the F.A. Cup.   The job of managing the hopes and desires of an unwaveringly loyal fan base has proved beyond a string of honest football men.

O’Neill’s predecessor Steve Bruce’s Geordie roots may have put him on the back foot when it came to forming a bond with the Black Cats’ support, and a 10th place finish in the year prior to his departure wasn’t sufficient to change opinion.

The trying circumstances which accompany the Black Cats’ top job at the best of times, never mind during the imminent seven future defining fixtures, will not trouble a man imbued with self-belief.

Sunderland’s support has remained admirably loyal throughout what has surely been the most dispiriting campaign since they were relegated with a derisory 15 points in 2006 – it could be argued that this term has proven a more bitter experience than even that of seven years earlier due to the initial O’Neill engendered buoyancy.

What the 40,000 plus crowds, who have borne witness to 12 months of almost unbroken torpid and lifeless football, did not covet was a manager making his latest stop on the merry-go-round.  Steve McClaren and Mark Hughes featured high on the list of potential contenders.  Neither man possess either the vitality to create a yearned for instant upturn in fortunes, or the innovativeness of Di Canio – or indeed of a raft of bright bosses presently developing serious credentials elsewhere.

Unlike Reading’s mystifying engagement of Nigel Adkins to succeed Brian McDermott – an apparently like for like replacement – Sunderland have been bold and brave in choosing to delve into the expanding box containing football’s new breed of bosses.

Warnock has already declared a belief that the position he has left at Leeds is one for an older manager.  He couldn’t be more wrong.  The tired Yorkshire giants are urgently in need of invigoration from an enthusiastic and, crucially, modern thinking man at the helm.

The inability of Warnock to make a telling impact at Elland Road will have hurt a fiercely proud man who would have wished his football legacy to rise above being considered a ‘promotion expert’ – a feat which he achieved with seven previous clubs.

At 64, and three years O’Neill’s senior, Warnock’s effectiveness as a leader at the highest level is waning.  Similar to his counterpart, he has not changed at the rate of so much around him.

This isn’t to decry any manager simply because of a date on his birth certificate.  Sir Alex Ferguson has perennially proven his adaptability and ability to evolve ahead of others.  Jupp Heynckes, at 67, is in charge of one of Europe’s most powerful and complete units at Bayern Munich – and has no plans to retire when Pep Guardiola slips into his still warm chair in the summer.

O’Neill and Warnock are comparably charismatic and retain certain magnetism.  They have added much to the rich tapestry of British football, but they stand together now as relics of yesterday’s game.

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