Unlike previous outbursts full of boiling anger and rage from Di Canio, this admission about his players had an almost disappointed tone. Yet, in a way its message is even clearer with a hint of public resignation in Di Canio that he believes a significant proportion of his players are either not good enough or lacking the effort required to succeed in the Premier League.
Admittedly, there were some strange and sloppy incidents involving Sunderland in the game at Selhurst Park. A perfect cross was played into Ji Dong-Won for him to put his head firmly on the ball. Any connection and he would have scored. Instead he blundered around with no firm decision on how to connect with the ball and generally made himself look like an idiot. The instance wasn’t very indicative of a professional footballer let alone a Premier League striker on thousands of pounds per week. Di Canio’s response to the South Korean was harsh in rhetoric though and despite his understandable frustration, it will not do the striker’s confidence any good in the long term.
Di Canio believed Ji was displaying cowardice by not putting his full weight behind the cross. His general play was also picked up on by Di Canio rewarding the ears of the media with a headline to pick up on. ‘Even from the corner, the young fella (Ji) – he could keep the ball much better if he had more desire’. Few could argue when during the match Di Canio decided to substitute Ji with the more experienced figurehead of Steven Fletcher who provided the Sunderland equaliser- a correct managerial decision whose positive impact will be completely undone by Di Canio’s public criticism.
There were reports that Ji stormed off after he was substituted. Making an objective conclsion, this represents even worse conduct from a player who failed to cover himself in respect during the match let alone glory. However, player discontent can be a contagious disease within dressing rooms. Whilst players may be in the wrong for having a tantrum based on selection their power in relation to managers is at an all-time high as Premier League clubs chop and change the figureheads of their clubs. Di Canio is one of the current crop of short term fixes, having been recruited in a last ditch attempt from Sunderland to stave off relegation in April.
Managers like Jose Mourinho have placed great emphasis on squad harmony and reaped the rewards of this with the accolades of the fans and the trophies to go with it. So, with one player already alienated, what does Di Canio do? He also attacks his captain for his performance. Hardly the behaviour of a professional manager. Even though a couple of the goals were sloppy, Di Canio would not have achieved anything by telling the leader of his team and defence via the media that the goals conceded were ‘rubbish’. A private conversation would have been more appropriate, but as we know Mr Di Canio usually jumps at the chance to stage a publicity stunt, often without any thought for his employers.
‘Our leader (O’Shea) didn’t react in the way he should. That is terrible, because it was a crucial game for us. It’s absolutely poor and not acceptable’. O’Shea could be forgiven for being annoyed by his manager’s lack of professionalism.
Criticising a mistake is all well and good when you’re reviewing the game with the team but a gung-ho response will not do Sunderland any favours. Having said that, the words ‘gung-ho’ spring to mind in the general appointment of Di Canio. He managed to rescue Sunderland from relegation the first time round but rhetoric like this at the start of the season will show its psychological impact later on in the season when the team and manager really do have to pull together. That’s assuming Di Canio will still be at the helm. At the moment, it wouldn’t be a bad shout to bet against that. More of the same from the Italian and he will be able to spend Christmas in his homeland.
The most damning view of Di Canio was the suggestion that he cared more about losing than his players. ‘I cannot change the heart of my players’ Di Canio confessed. This is despite Sunderland having the biggest squad overhaul of no less than 11 players this summer and more could arrive with the former Swindon manager stating ‘now you can see why we’ve asked for a few players’. The whole debacle at Sunderland stinks of chaos- new players whose record elsewhere looks distinctly average, a lack of Premier League experience, the manager criticising his players. The short term solution Di Canio provided in the North East will be of detriment to Sunderland in the long term. This season will prove it.