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For Swindon Town, a Premier League club of just fifteen years ago who have been beset by two administrations and a series of HMRC wind-up orders as they spent their time yo-yoing between the second and third tier, a rise back up to the Championship was never going to be smooth. In fact, with Paolo Di Canio in charge, the Italian who can win the FIFA fair play award of 2001 just as easily he can receive an 11 match ban for pushing a referee, it was going to be a roller-coaster.
On Monday night, that roller-coaster ended as Di Canio quit the club citing “broken promises” from the club’s potential new owners. A sequence of events starting with the sale of star winger Matt Ritchie, unauthorised by Di Canio, in order to fend off the problem of rising debts and a growing threat of another administration, had finally broke the Italian’s resolve.
He announced that a resignation had been tendered the previous Tuesday, before reneging after a meeting with the new owners on Friday. Their takeover had passed Di Canio’s reported deadline of 5 o’clock on the 18th February and in his true blunt and forthright nature, he was gone.
Perhaps he was reaping the seeds he had sewn himself. His march from League Two to the higher reaches of League One with a double promotion firmly in his sights was achieved with one of the highest budgets in the fourth tier and a summer’s transfer activity that broke Football League rules on the amount of money spent on fees and wages.
An embargo was placed on the club preventing them from signing players in January and Di Canio, having taken the club and its fans right to his heart, offered £30,000 of his own money to keep some loan signings. A storm had been brewing, as a result of forced player sales and injuries, the manager was forced to name just 4 substitutes from 7 on the bench in a recent away game at Colchester. Di Canio’s hands had been tied.
Regardless of the expenditure, there is no doubting the remarkable impact Di Canio has had at the County Ground. In his first year in professional management, he marched to the League Two championship with an impressive 93 points and a goal difference of a massive +43, achieved with just 32 goals conceded.
The momentum didn’t stop there, Swindon have continued their upward curve to lie sixth in League One at the time of Di Canio’s departure having lost just six games this campaign. In total, the fiery Italian won 44 of his 77 league games to record a win percentage of 57%.
However, with links to West Ham now popular amongst the press, there has to be caution over Di Canio’s viability for a higher level. Will his incredibly volatile nature be attractive for a club exposed to the intense media spotlight of the Premier League?
Factor in the ex-Hammer’s history of fascism, his open support of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, his bust-ups with Leon Clarke, Paul Caddis, fitness coach Claudio Donatelli, goalkeeper Wes Foderingham and former loanee Jonathon Tehouie whilst at Swindon. “When we got to know each other it was like two boxers sparring” said his chairman at the County Ground pre-takeover, Jeremy Wray.
With a charge sheet of misdemeanours which continues to split opinion unlike any other manager and just 18 months of professional management under his belt, Di Canio and his confrontational nature will represent a massive gamble for any club at a higher level, especially West Ham who are reportedly trying to improve their image from the pragmatic, bullish rule of Sam Allardyce.
There will also be a question as to how Di Canio will perform when subjected to the budget restraints other lower league managers have had to deal with. The ex-striker was always significantly backed by Swindon almost to the extent that such willing support was abused. In his season and a half in Wiltshire, there were a total of 58 departures under Di Canio’s stewardship and another 50 arrivals, it has been a huge overturn of players that would be unsustainable for a club preaching stability.
The 44 year old boss, even though he’s been a huge success in his first job, has not yet shown he can keep a constant squad or that he can work with budget restraints.
Football as a sport however, will be hoping Di Canio is in line for a quick return to the dugout as his volatility, his outspoken nature and his typically blasé approach to management will be hugely missed by the neutral fan often subjected to the banal, humdrum opinions and cliches that now circulate through the game.
Di Canio, through all of his imperfections, was perfect for Swindon and Swindon was perfect for him, until that sticky ending. English domestic football will be sad to feel his absence.
Written by Adam Gray
Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250
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