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At least we are not Sunderland

Filed: Monday, 23rd September 2013
By: Paul Walker

Five games into the Premier League campaign and we are struggling. No it’s not a crisis yet, and the time now is for calm, patience and strong nerve.

Thankfully we are not Sunderland. Now there is a crisis, a full-blown shambles. Millions spent on a new squad, new manager, new staff etc, etc, etc. And our old mate Paolo Di Canio gets the boot five games into the season. Anyone surprised? No , me neither.

Di Canio’s style has been described as "management by hand grenade". You may be able to get away with that at Swindon when substituting goalkeepers before half-time, falling out with your players and lashing them in the media can be dismissed as erratic and comical.

Do that with a squad of 20-something millionaires and you are dead in the water. Sunderland knew what they were taking on, something our own board declined to do even though, so says Ms. Brady, Di Canio did keep ringing the club asking to be given a chance.

I recall the clamour from fans for Paolo to be appointed our manager. But I always sensed that it was romance against reality. A few of our West Ham-supporting journalists wrote pieces at the time warning of the devil we didn’t really know. Di Canio was high risk, high maintenance and highly likely to explode at any minute. Too much of a risk, as Sunderland have discovered.

Hands up out there anyone who secretly wanted Paolo to succeed at Sunderland so he would one day march back into the Boleyn. Hands up those who thought he could handle a Premier League club.

Hands up anyone who wants him back now. Not so many as before, I bet.

And it’s a generational thing. My match day mates are all half my age, they remember him as the great entertainer. My own son has named his Dalmatian dog, Paolo. The dog is lovable, beautiful to behold at full speed, crazy as a box of frogs and hugely unpredictable. Remind you of anyone?

When Paolo was at his peak at West Ham, I was working in the north and heavily involved with big clubs there that win things. I barely had time to get to the Boleyn those days. I only saw my beloved Irons when they came north for their ritual beatings at Manchester United, Liverpool, Everton etc. And in fact I rarely saw our Italian then either, because of his obvious dislike for cold, wet northern grounds (so why go to Sunderland).

I did manage to wangle covering the FA Cup third round defeat at Tranmere in 1999, when Di Canio had managed to negotiate his way that far north. The pitch was bare, bumpy and the day cold and bleak. We were awful and Paolo was a waste of space.

I recall talking to Redknapp after the press conference that day, he shrugged and was resigned to such a performance. Then there was the famous "catching the ball" trick at Everton when their goalkeeper was injured. Redknapp said all the right things about sportsmanship in that press conference, but talking to him as we walked down the stairs together after that match, and ‘arry’s view was very different. Basically, put the ball in the net and then worry about their ‘keeper.

The erratic side of Di Canio gets lost in the misty eyed memories of his breathtaking talent. I also recall being in a Cardiff ‘Aussie’ bar on the Sunday that Di Canio scored that amazing goal against Wimbledon. The place was almost empty, apart from the professional afternoon drinkers, and there I was jumping around screaming ’you beauty’ at the TV screen on the wall, almost begging the drunks to watch the replays!.

So I do understand the appeal of the man, the thrill of his talent and the passion he showed us for the game. But, my God, he is a liability.

Our owners could have taken the plunge with Di Canio, and who knows what would have happened. Di Canio certainly wouldn’t have been able to predict anything, such is his nature and desire for the unexpected.

Our owners must be happy now they did not go down that road. Now I know Paolo is a hero at the Boleyn, a stunning, gifted footballer who brought entertainment and joy on many a damp, cold, east London day.

And I know this will not go down well with plenty of our fans, but you must have guessed by now that somewhere along the line I did not go for the Paolo for Pope routine. There was too much baggage, too many things that went wrong and far too much of the me, me, me character in the Italian.

Deja Vu: Paolo's not the first manager to face a backlash from his players

We went down with him in the side - or to be accurate, we went down with him home in Italy having fallen out with Glenn Roeder. Frankly, inexcusable behaviour from a professional. He may not have liked the manager, but his job was to play for the club. And too often he didn‘t.

Frequently we now see the amazing cameo of the game when he demanded that ‘arry should take him off because he didn’t like the referee. There were times in that game when Paolo was playing in his own panto, oblivious of the game going on around him.

Redknapp has made something of a living with amusing recollections of Di Canio’s antics and maybe in the pantomime that was Redknapp’s management style at Upton Park, it all fitted in. But a few seasons down the line, we were relegated with a side that included Di Canio, Trevor Sinclair, Jermain Defoe, Michael Carrick, David James, Glen Johnson, Joe Cole and Freddi Kanoute in the side. An unforgivable shambles with such talent.

That season, Di Canio played when he felt like it. Trevor Brooking had to almost go on bended knee to get him back into the team. And we still went down. Now it is Sunderland picking up the pieces from the car crash. What do they do with the 14 players he signed, the Italian agents he has worked with, the Italian coaches and scouts on the pay-roll?

All this has hit us with the backdrop of our own less than stunning last couple of weeks. The Andy Carroll saga rolls on. We can’t get Carlton Cole fit and have expensive people like Joe Cole and Stewart Downing on the sidelines. Claims that we are a one-trick pony (Carroll) are hard to argue against.

Successive home defeats to Stoke, a truly terrible game, and Everton - where we were winning with 15 minutes left - has left us with a growing cloud over our season. But it is not that bad.

If you compare like-on-like results to last season (and substitute QPR at home for Cardiff), we are just two points down on last term. We drew at home to relegated QPR and beat Cardiff on the opening day. We won last term at Newcastle and drew this time, we drew with Stoke and lost this time around while we lost to Everton last season as well

You could hear the moaning as we all walked back down Wakefield Street on Saturday about Sam, tactics, transfers, style of play. It puts immense pressure on us to get something at Hull, with tough games against Spurs, Manchester City and Swansea to come next.

But it’s not a crisis, not yet. But Sunderland, well are you glad you are not in their boots. And maybe the clamour for Di Canio will take on a more realistic look.

Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, nor should be attributed to, KUMB.com.

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