When the rumours started to spread linking Paolo Di Canio with the manager’s job at Swindon Town there were a few who had to do a double take. The combination seemed crazy, a recently relegated team looking to go straight back up and a man renowned for being completely unique, both good and bad.
But the League Two side made the decision and began their strange and wonderful route to stardom as the nations’ press flocked to the County Ground to see the Roman Emperor take his throne.
Like his crowd-pleasing, referee-shoving, fair-playing, miracle-volleying, ugly-gesturing career, nobody knew what was going to happen next but since the season began the 43-year-old has taken to life in the hotseat magnificently and has proved an inspired selection. Despite losing 7 of his first 13 matches, his side went on a 15 game unbeaten run that only came to an end on Boxing Day and now they sit fourth in the table having beaten Crawley and Southend, the top two sides in the division.
But it is perhaps the FA Cup where he has saved his best results for. Having hammered Huddersfield 4-1 in the first round, Saturday’s result against Wigan epitomised why we love the competition and showed off the astute tactician within the Italian as well as his undoubted enthusiasm. Although the goal winning goal came off the shin of Paul Benson and had more than a hint of offside about it, the Robins didn’t fluke the win. Rather than playing the showman on the big occasion he left it to his team to do the talking as they put his tactics in place.
After the game all the different levels of the managers’ character were there to see. The humble, caring side spoke of his sorrow that his recently deceased father couldn’t see his achievement and dedicated the win to his memory. He gave a detailed explanation of how he had urged his players to shut down dangerman Victor Moses but he was tinkering with tactics the whole game and adapting to the situation, a constantly changing approach that more established managers would envy. And then there was the over-the-top man that we have missed since he left English football. He called for a plaque to be put up at the County Ground to honour his sides’ victory over the Premier League side and asked them to bring on Barcelona in the next round.
The fiery Italian’s love of the game and winning mentality are infectious and it is clear that the squad has caught the bug but his attention to detail and his vast wealth of knowledge about all levels of football is phenomenal. His players are well organised and they shift the ball crisply around the park which is proving a great combination and with performances like Saturday the confidence in their playing style will continue to grow. They are on the right end of the results at the moment and having got in the groove it will be almost impossible to shift them. Everybody’s confidence is brimming and they believe that the club can achieve greatness with the Italian at the helm.
After announcing that the club are close to severing the contract of defender Alberto Comazzi, he went on to say that the club need several new players to come in during January. A centre-back, central midfielder, winger and a striker are all in his sights and he says if that happens then he can “guarantee we will make something special”. It is a bold statement but if one man came achieve it then it is Di Canio. He has already made some great signings like Raffaele de Vita and Mehdi Kerrouche who have been magnificent and the draw of playing for the impulsive and amazing Italian sets them apart from the League Two rivals but most importantly, the club can’t afford not to back a man who is promising greatness.
Like his playing career it will have up’s and down’s but he is almost certainly going to deliver. He can be eccentric and impulsive but his work rate is phenomenal and having set his sights on glory it will be a tough task to deprive him.
He said: “Like many who started from a low level, my ambition is to become a manager at the top level,”
“But with a good plan that we’ve already got with the board for the future here, why can’t I do it with this club?”
That will be music to the ears of Robins fans because a great season could see a lot of chairmen sniffing around their boss and depending on the success at Sam Allardyce, it wouldn’t be surprising to see West Ham United leading the pack.
Since his return to England we have all remembered why we have missed the larger-than-life presence off the over the top Italian. Beneath his designer’s overcoat lies the same lion-hearted player that stole our hearts during his time at Sheffield Wednesday, West Ham and Charlton Athletic and he’s going to do it again.
Watching him run down the touchline after Swindon’s last minute winner against Northampton to celebrate with his players was the sort of surprising act that we take delight in seeing from him. Telling his players that he doesn’t care if they dive because they were denied a spot-kick against Macclesfield is the sort of outrageous and off-the-cuff comment that we want from him. We never know what he is going to do next but we love waiting to see. His emotion can leave us with lumps in our throat and his heart-on-sleeve reflections are gripping.
He is a complete one-off as a man and a manager but whatever he has is working. Watch this fascinating space.
How brilliant is Paolo Di Canio? Comment below or follow me on Twitter @jrobbins1991.
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