“Di Canio is a dictator. On Saturday we told him. We don’t like you. We don’t want you here.”
Those are the words of an experienced, senior professional who spoke up for the younger members of the squad, and for those whose command of the English language was not up to confronting the fiery Italian. Including players he had signed only recently.
The player continues: “I told him that the players who had played for Martin O’Neill were sick and tired of Di Canio constantly criticising O’Neill. He did so almost every day. I told him we liked the former gaffa and that we hated the way Di Canio spoke to us. He signed players and then showed them no respect.
“An unhappy team is never going to win football matches. You’ll see a difference now he’s gone.”
“He had a right go at Connor Wickham for wanting a move to Sheffield Wednesday. He said Connor must be crazy to want to leave Sunderland for Wednesday.”
Those are the words, uttered to me first hand, by a player who used several expletives not used here to describe “the worst man manager I have played for… he’s a dictator. He’s mad.”
I should stress here and now that I am not keen on writing stories in which the quotes used cannot be attributed to the person or persons who uttered the words.
But, in this instance, I am making an exception. Though, as has been the case since I worked in Fleet Street newspapers in the late 1970’s, I will not reveal my sources.
As written previously, I am in touch with a player Paolo Di Canio signed at Swindon Town. I am also in contact with a player who was in the Sunderland dressing room when the team lost at West Brom last weekend.
I have had an interest in the mindset of Paolo Di Canio since the days he played for Sheffield Wednesday and from the moment I sat down to dinner with him and listened with a mixture of shock and disbelief to his strident political views. He started that line of conversation. I did not.I always wanted to interview him on camera. Ideally at the Imperial War Museum – in front of that vast collection of shoes rescued from the concentration camps.
And ask Paolo where he thought those shoes came from, if not the holocaust.
I did not know of his opinion on that and other historic issues when I paid my entrance fee to watch him play for Sheffield Wednesday. Celtic and West Ham fans will know what I am on about when I say that, on some match days, Paolo Di Canio was worth the entrance fee alone.
Then he pushed referee Paul Alcock to the floor and was sent packing by Owls manager Danny Wilson.
To my sure and certain knowledge, Di Canio wanted to play for a London club. He got his way. He was furious when Sheffield Wednesday refused to defend his actions at a costly disciplinary hearing.
West Ham were the fortunate beneficiaries. The Hammers were prepared to pay more than the bargain fee of 1 million pounds. That was one of the best buys in the history of the Premier League. Arguably Di Canio played his very best football at Upton Park. Harry Redknapp was very happy with his purchase.
Di Canio could be a nightmare to manage for the likes of Redknapp, Wilson and Ron Atkinson. But they figured his on the pitch skills compensated for his volatile nature.
A Swindon player told me: “He is a nice man to spend time with. He charms the players wives and always remembers the names of their children. He was so kind to my parents and family members. But, on match day, he was a different man. He always treated me well and was fair with me. He taught me techniques I had never come across in my long career. But he did pick on certain players and belittle them. I didn’t like that side to him.”
Personally, through my career, I have seen both faces of Paolo Di Canio. Some people think I don’t like him. Strangely, despite his rewriting of history and views I find abhorrent, I do like him.
But I would not want him as my boss.
His temperament was never a secret in football. Why those who run Sunderland football club did not know that when they hired him remains a mystery.
I doubt we have seen the last of Paolo managing in England.
Personally, I hope it’s not at my club. Though I would not be surprised if that came to pass. Many of the people running football clubs these days are unfit to run a whelk stall.
Here’s a video of Harry Redknapp recalling some “mad” moments from Paolo Di Canio