Gareth Barker imagines what an onlooker from his own parallel universe might have made of the dismal display against Manchester United that was quickly followed by MoN’s exit, looks back on Paolo Di Canio’s mostly winning start and gets reacquainted with enjoying life …
It feels an absolute age ago since we meekly stumbled to a somehow comprehensive 1-0 home defeat to the champions-elect Manchester United under the stewardship of Martin O’Neill.
Some might say “that’s not bad … we were always in the game at 1-0”. And it is true that an outsider looking in could feel this kind of result against a team of Manchester United’s ability was a decent effort by a struggling side on yet another epic winless run.
Well, it was that bad. It was really bad.
I was as shocked as anyone when I heard, while at a wedding party via a phone call from my fellow Salut! Sunderland contributor Stephen Goldsmith, that Mr O’Neill had been issued with a P45. I was shocked because I felt we, as a football club, were guilty of a woeful lack of consistency not only on the pitch but off it too. We’ve chopped and changed managers and we’ve gone absolutely nowhere. Unfortunately in recent times, we’ve gone backwards.
But after sitting and thinking about O’Neill’s tenure I started to come to the conclusion that maybe it wasn’t such a shocking decision after all.
The Manchester United game was the perfect microcosmic example of this. We all trudged up to the game expecting to get nothing. As the players trudged out of the tunnel, they did little to convince myself and 40,000 others that they expected to get something from the game either. Players ran around a bit in their designated little areas of the field, whilst David de Gea had his deck chair out in the goalmouth. On top of this complete lack of aptitude in the game, which is even more shocking when you consider the talent at our disposal, we didn’t really show any fight, any pride, any passion, any anything.
Bye Martin. Hello Di Canio? Really?
That was my reaction, amongst other well documented reactions all over the world it seemed. I’m not going to go over the now boring stuff that we all did when he first arrived.
Most Swindon fans loved Paolo for his passion. This is what we were all told and this is the main thing we all were expecting. He’s going to come in and kick – insert any of the underperforming players’ names here – up the backside and they’ll either do something or put in a transfer request. As the first week of his tenure progressed however, I was certainly enthralled by how Di Canio was going about putting his stamp on Sunderland Football Club.
Working 24/7 on putting things right was the gist of the message from the Di Canio camp. “How much can you do to change things in three, four, maybe five weeks?” was the question on many fans’ lips. Well, it hasn’t even taken three weeks. It took only two.
There were immediate signs of change, at Chelsea. The team were far more compact. This gives us the opportunity to press the ball in the right areas of the pitch. Then not only are we winning the ball but invariably there’s somebody around to pick up the second ball and retain possession or start an attack. It’s great to see the side so compact with the intent of imposing themselves on the game and then blossoming out when we have the ball and looking threatening.
These tactical changes have also seen the likes of Sessegnon and Johnson really start to flourish. As a result of our more compact and aggressive nature these players can now gain possession and have space to run created by great running off the ball. There are also plenty of options to pick out, with numerous players flooding the penalty area. It’s no surprise that Johnson in particular has surged in form. He now has full backs overlapping him and other midfielders giving him options, which leaves him an isolated full back to beat. We saw him terrorise Baines at times this weekend and it was a fantastic spectacle.
The third magnificent strike in the demolition derby, by David Vaughan, was a great example of a midfield player having the freedom to make himself available in an attack and influence the game. Danny Graham has been putting in some classic centre forward’s performances, dragging and bullying defenders and just making himself a general nuisance.
These are all things that Di Canio has brought to the table. They already look like ”his” team.
This is a phenomenal effort by him, but all we seem to be hearing about in the national press is the passion he has brought. This is the main reason for our upturn in form and it’ll all collapse again in a few months’ time for the same reasons as always. These comments I find particularly galling. These people clearly haven’t watched us much this season, if ever. They don’t know what it means to be part of or to support Sunderland AFC, yet cast the opinions of the “majority” in the nation’s minds without a second thought.
Yes Paolo has brought passion, desire, spirit and togetherness but we all know this really isn’t enough. You need to know how to best utilise the talent at your disposal, you need tactics, game plans (notice the plural) and high level preparation.
These are the main reasons for our turnaround.
After the Newcastle celebrations (dirty knees) and the Everton post match antics, I’ve heard people in the national media saying that it’s clearly all about Di Canio and his ego. It’s all very good now, but it’ll tail off again like is always does at Sunderland. It would be good to know what people think the answer is to our problems, rather than pouring ill-informed scorn onto our solutions.
There was a Worcester Town fan on BBC Radio 5 Live giving his opinion on Di Canio and stating he wouldn’t take him as their boss and that he’s a disaster waiting to happen. No offence, but who cares what Whinger of Worcester thinks about the manager of Sunderland Football Club?
All of these people haven’t had to sit through the dross that’s been served up frequently over the past however many years. Our incompetence spans generations.
I stood and applauded a side off on Saturday that played really well in a good game of football in a wonderful atmosphere. So Di Canio is box office? Why is that a bad thing for us? It was theatre, pure entertainment from start to finish. People say “it’ll end in tears”. It probably will, it always does. But some entertainment along the way won’t go amiss and we’re certainly getting it now.
Who knows what the future holds, but it’s nice to enjoy the present.