Monsieur Salut was watching/nodding off to a French crime reconstruction programme, Faites entrer l’accusé (see headline for translation) when news reached him that Paolo Di Canio had been appointed head coach of Sunderland. Di Canio may feel like the accused when he takes his place in the dock at the Stadium of Light for the press conference. He must speak for himself.
David Miliband’s decision to stand down in protest as vice-chairman may be taken as a part principle, part expediency. He’s off the the US anyway. But there are plenty of others among Sunderland supporters who find this a disturbing move on Ellis Short’s part. M Salut has been roundly condemned by a noble jury of readers over at ESPN for voicing his own reservations (see http://espnfc.com/blog/_/name/sunderland/id/1322?cc=5739. There is something so – oh what is it? – fascistic, about implying that an individual has no right to express strongly held views whether that individual happens to be Di Canio or M Salut. Pete Sixsmith feels more strongly still and has the stirrings of rebellion in his heart…
In the 1955 Broadway show, Damn Yankees, a long suffering baseball fan sells his soul to the devil in return for his team, the hapless Washington Senators, having a good season and defeating the despised New York Yankees. The devil is disguised as a salesman called Mr Applegate. Mr Applegate appears to be alive and well and in contact with Ellis Short.
The Di Canio appointment was not foreseen by this writer. Poyet, di Matteo, McClaren, Hughes – all experienced out of work managers – were the names being thrown around in discussions on Saturday night and Sunday morning. The former Swindon Town manager, out of work since he left the club over the selling of a player to promotion rivals Bournemouth, was considered and dismissed in the time it takes to butter a slice of toast.
And then we heard that he was on his way to the North East and that he was likely to sign a deal. No discussions, no long drawn out negotiations between the club and his agent, he was going to take the job. What does this tell us?
Clearly, the preliminary work had been going on secretly for a period of time, probably since the abject surrender in Shepherds Bush. A deal had been struck and terms had been fixed and as soon as O’Neill’s disappointing tenure was up, the final move was made. The King is dead, long live the King.
It is as left field an appointment as you could come up with and on a par with the bizarre appointment of Howard Wilkinson – although I don’t remember Wilkinson avowing his love of Sir Oswald Mosley. Here we are, staring relegation in the face and we appoint a man who has managed in the lower divisions and who is as divisive a figure as you could come up with.
After two appointments of experienced managers who have not fulfilled their obligations to the club, the owner has thrown away the Niall Quinn Book of Football Managers and has gone for a real maverick, a man who has personality, flair and madness but who has flaws as big as the Grand Canyon running through him.
His former chairman at Swindon speaks well of him. The Town fans loved him for his outbursts, his passion and his ability to get ordinary players do extraordinary things. But that was against Accrington and Plymouth, not Chelsea and Everton.
Others are not as complimentary. One Swindon director said his tenure at the County Ground was “management by hand grenade” which may or may not be what a struggling team with little confidence need.
But with Di Canio there is a huge amount of baggage that comes with him and that baggage is political. He has declared himself “a Fascist, not a racist” and has made it clear that he admires Benito Mussolini, the Italian founder of fascism and dictator of that country from 1922 to 1944.
He has the Latin word “dux” tattooed on his arm. Translated into modern Italian, it becomes “Duce”, Leader, the title Mussolini gave himself after he seized power in Italy 90 years ago. In Mussolini’s world, there was only one leader and he forced through the will of the people and woe betides those who opposed that will.
Mussolini had been a Socialist and had edited the Socialist newspaper Avanti, but he saw all established politicians as weak and corrupt, prompting him to set up a national movement based on all coming together for the common good. Taking the old Roman symbol of bound pieces of wood to signify strength, he established the PNF which became the ruling party for 20 years.
There are photographs of him stripped to the waist, his huge barrel chest glistening with sweat after he had helped a farmer to bring in his harvest. Dignitaries flocked to Rome to see how he had transformed a disparate society into a united one. He had many admirers in this country. He talked of strength and unity and glory – “it is better to live one day as a lion than one thousand as a lamb” was the mantra taught in schools.
But much of it was show. He liked the big gesture. Draining the Pontine Marshes outside of Rome was one of them. It played a major part in eradicating malaria but the workers were housed in camps surrounded by barbed wire, were paid low wages for long hours and could be summarily dismissed.
And he believed in the racial superiority of the Aryan and Mediterranean races. The white races were there to rule over the inferior blacks in Africa. That may not go down well with our current sponsors.
His fall from grace was ignominious. He left Rome for the North and ran a puppet state from the lakeside town of Salo. He ended up hanging from a lamppost in Milan, strung up by the heels.
So, we have a head coach who admires this blustering bully who was seen as a figure of fun by many in Britain but who imprisoned without trial, closed down newspapers and formed an alliance with Hitler. Di Canio comes to a city where the English Defence League has a strong and noisy presence. They may welcome him. I am not sure I do.
In Damn Yankees, the Senators get to beat the Yankees and Applegate turns up to claim the fans’ soul. He fails and they all live happily ever after. I doubt that we shall after this incredibly divisive appointment.