Transformation since Man Utd debacle reveals more to Paolo than ‘passion’

Gareth in a dugout somewhere
Gareth in a dugout somewhere

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.



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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.

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11 thoughts on “Transformation since Man Utd debacle reveals more to Paolo than ‘passion’”

  1. Keith said “He thought this out and made a decision many think is radical, but it is many years since I felt as positive about the future PDC just seems like the right fit, we are suited he believes Sunderland have endless potential, I don’t think,MON, Bruce or Keane did”

    I think that this comments just sums up our situation perfectly. Spot on. Bruce was always harping on about how our expectations were too high. I’m not sure how “expectations” can be too high when we have only won one major trophy since before WW2. Keane thought it was a good place to start in management and that he would use us as a stepping stone to bigger and better things, but it didn’t turn out quite like that.

    O’Neill on the other had only took the job after not wanting it before and he saw it as the job to do before he retired altogether. Retirement may have come sooner than he hoped after all that.

    I’ve felt for some time that what we needed was someone who could change the way that we are perceived by others and to eradicate our constant nostalgia about 1973. Whether we like it or not we have had something of an image problem. People often ask me why 40 thousand people turn out to watch us, and I was starting to struggle to find an answer. It has taken this controversial move by Ellis Short to ignite the real fire that smoulders and a character like Paolo to inspire and capture the imagination.

    Others have come and talked about our potential. Di Canio hasn’t mentioned the word “potential” yet as far as I’ve heard but that doesn’t matter, because he just feels it and will bring it out.

    Like Keith, I haven’t felt as optimistic as this for years. Even when O’Neill’s Hawthorne Effect kicked in, there was always a nagging doubt in my mind.

    Get ready for the ride lads and lasses. It’s warming up and it’s not just Spring sunshine!

  2. Leadership is what has been lacking and it seems Ellis Short may have these qualities. He didn’t wait for the fans to moan before ousting O’Neil, like most chairman do, he obviously took his own counsel, because it was such a shock to all. He decided on his own that the past 12 months were unacceptable considering his substaintial investment and there nothing on show to say the next ’12 months were going to be any better and he did what he believed was needed. It may ultimatley not be the long term solution, but short team it was perfect. He thought this out and made a decision many think is radical, but it is many years since I felt as positive about the future PDC just seems like the right fit, we are suited he believes Sunderland have endless potential, I don’t think,MON, Bruce or Keane did

  3. The discipline and shape of the team, the movement, the vastly improved ball retention have all contributed hugely to our uprising. You could tell at Chelsea there was more to it than just ‘new manager bounce’, our players actually looked like they knew their roles perfectly and took the game forward whenever the chance arose.

    On Saturday all of these things were in evidence again, that combined with said ‘passion’ carried us over the line. The last 20 minutes it felt as if we were the club that ended the last millennium in their fortress of a home, this is our pitch, we have the spirit and fight to beat anyone here and we’ll stand up to any challenge. You felt pride that you knew bodies would be put on the line to save our skins. It feels like we’ve been in a coma since the early SoL days, at least for most of it. Moving forward I feel we’ll enjoy going to games under Di Canio, having awoken from our slumbers, something feels different from the false dawns of the past, I dont know what but it feels good.

  4. But Everton were poor on Saturday! I heard it on MOTD so it must be true.
    Well that really p’d me off because up till then I thought we’d played really well and not allowed them to dictate the game in the way they almost certainly would have done if MO’N had still been in charge. In fact between about 56 and 58 mins. there was more excitement than I remember all year (if not all season).
    Well done Ellis Short for making the change, I had decided to cancel my season ticket for next season until he got rid of MO’N. It was not so much that results were bad, more that the “football” was dreadful. At least I feel now as if I have woken from a long sleep.
    Long may it continue.

  5. Great article addressing something that has really hacked me off in the last few weeks, although it may be to our benefit if opposition teams think it is just passion. PDC has addressed the 1 glaring weakness that everybody watching could see but MON couldn’t fix (or at least couldn’t get the players to apply his fix). We now get the ball to our wingers quickly and run off them so that they often only have one man to beat and, if they beat them, are not then immediately met by other defenders with nobody else to worry about. Johnson could not have left Baines on his arse like that previously because, even if he did the man behind him would just take the ball and the crown would groan and let him know what they thought. Arguments over Johnson in our part of the stadium had almost come to blows 2 or 3 times this season with the 2 sides being that he is rubbish or that the way we played gave him no chance. I was in the latter camp and I hope to be proved right over the next few weeks and, hopefully years.
    I am worried about the amount of limelight that Di Canio is taking. The short term effect is positive, witness the best atmosphere for years on Saturday, but players have egos as well and he will need to be careful that the players know it is really about them. Hopefully, for next season, the crowd can also strike a more even balance between singing players names and the managers (although the songs about Di Canio and Mackems punching horses certainly brightened my day). Basically, really positive now but I hope he has the sense to keep the players on side going into next season. I think that he will but who knows.
    As for ending in tears, I am pretty sure it will, but the hope is that it will be a year or 2 before that happens and it will certainly be exciting on the way.

  6. I don’t think O’Neill’s departure was too much of a shock to many fans Gareth. Personally I’m only surprised that he lasted so long.

    I do agree with your point that the effect PDC has had is about more than passion. You can see the difference in the shape, and, particuarly, the workrate. This is about coaching as well as motivation. I will be very interested to see what he can achieve next season, when he and his coaching team will have had more time to work with on individual performance and tactics. I just hope that we will still be in the PL – an outcome which would, in my opinion, have been out of the question had MO’N stayed on.

  7. I heard the Worcester Whinger Gareth and I’m not sure he was who he said he was. I’d like to bet he was an Oxford United or Reading fan.

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