Andrea Dossena, a left-sided defender from Napoli, and Liverpool’s out-of-favour striker Fabio Borini are all but signed on season-long loans, according to reports. But Paolo Di Canio has still to convince us that anyone he brings in, or has brought in, will be an improvement on the most gifted, if also most erratic, member of his squad, Stephane Sessegnon, seemingly bound for WBA (assuming the Qatar deal is really off). ButMonsieur Salut has something else on his mind ….
Among the certainties of recent history is that Salut! Sunderland collectively went through hoops of fire to present an olive branch to Paolo Di Canio.
His appointment troubled some of us. The club initially handled it abysmally. But we accepted at face value the belated statement emphasising what PDC said he was not, even though his own actions and gestures had made it difficult to criticise those who assumed otherwise. We took comfort from the total lack of racism in his make-up and past actions. We applauded his infectious enthusiasm; we admired the exceptional natural rapport with the fans and the history of the club they support with such undeserved passion and loyalty; we were fired by his immediate results.
The 3-0 romp at St James’ Park was enough to make up for all the season’s bitter disappointments, especially when followed by a good if hard-fought home victory over Everton and ultimate salvation. Martin O’Neill, as everyone except Martin O’Neill knew, had been taking us down. We’d desperately wanted him to succeed and his failure to look like doing so was a huge blow.
When this season started, we were buoyed by a decent little pre-season tournament out east if a little surprised at how little else we seemed to be doing except bringing in loads of new players. We looked at the fixtures list, winced at the home run until mid-December but made ourselves believe the first three games were so winnable that we could buy ourselves breathing space and then pray to do well on the road.
It was all an illusion. I do recall someone at the Blackcats e-mail list saying it would be typical of Sunderland to get no more than a point from Fulham (h) and Southampton and Palace (a) before shocking us out of our trepidation by sneaking wins at home to Arsenal and Liverpool. Let us pray he has got both parts of the scenario right.
But the one factor which I feel, as strongly as possible, would put such a morale-boosting lifeline out of reach is the fear that PDC is not carrying the players along on his wave of commitment to the common cause.
Pete Sixsmith, in his match report, and I, at ESPNFC.com, separately reached the conclusion that the treatment of Ji Dong-won three minutes into the second half against MK Dons was shabby. How many of us would respond positively at work to being publicly humiliated – in Ji’s case, booed off the field when a quiet halftime substitution would have sufficed – in such a brutal manner?
And what possible improvement do we expect to see in John O’Shea’s game from being torn into in post-match interviews? Generally solid, he was of course guilty of a shocking and costly mistake at Selhurst Park. But this, as someone pointed out in a weekend round-table discussion on Sky, is the skipper, the man who PDC should be counting on to rally the troops in the dressing room. If he’s sporting a gaping wound, that is a tall order.
In the same TV programme, one or two of the writers suggested that what may have worked once, exceptionally, just after PDC took over last season, is likely to backfire if it turns into a pattern. We’ve even seen one of the much-touted close-season acquisitions, Cabral, fall heavily from favour. The Independent suggested today that Di Canio has already lost the support of his players.
I am in favour, in general terms, of the PDC approach to discipline. Young men earning fabulous wages, more per week in many cases than the average fan collects in a year, have a huge responsibility to club and supporters. But encouraging them to observe and act on that responsibility requires intelligent, measured man-management. We are not seeing that, in all too many public utterances, from PDC. It is not going to turn what Jamie Redknapp today calls “powderpuff Sunderland” into world-beaters.
For all that. the doom can be put on hold. A couple of unexpected wins, home or away, would make all the difference. But they are all the more likely to happen if there are smiles on the faces of men pulling on the red and white stripes (or the unappealing yellow on travels).
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