Things are never quite what they seem. That probably applies as much to a statement released by Paolo Di Canio to Sky Sports News today as to comments made by at least one senior Sunderland player following his dismissal as head coach. In the statement, PDC denies there was any “training ground bust-up” and claims that with more time, he could have led Sunderland to safety.
This is what Di Canio told Sky: “When I joined the club last season with the aim of saving them from relegation I was happy to be offered the opportunity to manage in the Premier League. I walked into a challenging situation but achieved what I was asked to do, the highlight of which was the fantastic performance and win against Newcastle, which is something I will always remember.
“I love English football and I feel that my time at the club has been unfairly cut short as given the chance, I am certain that had I been allowed longer, I would have been able to develop the team to achieve the success Sunderland fans desire.
“When you bring in 14 new players, many from overseas and very few with Premiership experience it is going to take time for them to adapt to the English game and to gel as a team. As I have said many times, I love English football and I feel that my time at the club has been unfairly cut short as given the chance, I am certain that had I been allowed longer, I would have been able to develop the team to achieve the success Sunderland fans desire.
“There has been a lot written in the media in recent days, much of it wholly untrue. There was no training ground bust-up as some are reporting and many of the players have since sent me messages thanking me for my time as their manager and helping them to improve as footballers.
“We could see that results had not gone as well as any of us had hoped, but I felt as a team we could turn things around.
“I remain confident in my ability and I want to manage again in England as soon as I can. When things like this happen it is important to take something positive from it. I have learnt a lot from my brief time at Sunderland and I am sure that this will only make me a better manager in my next job.
“Even though my time at the club ended prematurely, I would like to thank Sunderland for giving me my first opportunity to be a Premier League manager.”
Why may this not necessarily represent the whole truth? Because we have no particular reason to disbelieve John O’Shea’s comments painting a somewhat different picture.
According to the Shields Gazette, he confirmed that several players had made a stand “against the Italian’s regime”. Asked if the players had felt “something needed to be said about Di Canio”, he reportedly replied: “That was obviously done. But we have to move on now. Because of the position we’re in in the league, we can’t keep going back to it.”
Ominously, O’Shea also said: “Whoever comes in, whether it’s Bally or a new manager, we’ve got tough times ahead. We have to stick together and if we keep going back to it, it’ll soon be too hard to pull back from where we are.”
Of course, both could be right. There may have been no training ground bust-up, but plenty of anger. That anger may well have been expressed away from the training ground but expressed all the same.
The Shields Gazette quoted O’Shea, in reported speech (ie not direct quotes), as saying a delegation of senior players voiced their concerns to the Sunderland board 24 hours after volatile scenes in the dressing room after the West Brom debacle. The paper hardly minced words with its headline – “O’Shea admits to Di Canio player mutiny” – though this perhaps owed something to the media screech factor.
We clearly do not know the whole story and probably never will.