Paolo Di Canio: Hypocrite, bully or fantastic football manager?

September 12, 2012 in League 1

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My favourite TV show is probably Scrubs. One of my favourite quotes from said show is a genius line from Dr Cox:

“I think life is just too short to spend your time working some place where people don’t crap their pants at the mere sight of you.”

Using fear as a motivational tool is not a new concept, but recently, Swindon manager Paolo Di Canio has been taking it to new levels. Di Canio as a player will forever be remembered for two things, 1) “that” goal for West Ham against Wimbledon. A finish so good that it made Trevor Sinclair look like a pass master, and 2) pushing over referee Paul Alcock after being sent off resulting in an 11-game ban and possibly the funniest fall by a grown man ever caught on tape.

Since beginning his managerial career last season at Swindon, everything appears to have come easy to the Italian. He delivered the League 2 title last season after promising it all season, and many pundits have his team tipped for promotion from League 1 this season. However, things have just started to go a little pear shaped (or “andare a monte” in Di Canio’s native tongue). Swindon have lost their last three in all competitions, and after each, Di Canio has publically slated individual players for the defeats.

First came the much YouTubed video of Di Canio substituting goalkeeper Wes Foderingham after 21 minutes against Preston and then ranting to the press about his height, his ability, his lack of experience. Di Canio even decided to go back a game and say Foderingham was rubbish in the previous win against Stoke in the League Cup! Di Canio said that unless Foderingham apologised for his reaction to being substituted, he would be out of the door. Next came a defeat against bitter rivals Oxford in the Johnstone Paint Trophy. Di Canio publically slated Aden Flint for the loss, claiming the defender was “..on holiday”, and that his slow reactions were to blame for the single goal. Lastly, this weekend came a loss at home to Leyton Orient, after which Di Canio virtually put his entire team on the chopping block claiming he’d “overestimated some of them”.

Now, in case you hadn’t noticed, I am not a football manager, but I can’t help but thinking this will not end well for Di Canio, Swindon or the players. Ruling by fear is one thing, but publically singling players out and embarrassing them is a very dangerous tactic. Take Sir Alex Ferguson, for instance. The hairdryer treatment is legendary, everyone knows he will lose his temper with his players, but can anyone remember a time where Fergie has publicly slated a current player or any of his own? The closest I can come is when he said something about Beckham having too big a public life (or something to that effect). Managers generally back their players publicly, some more than others. If Cristiano Ronaldo claimed he saw an alien, you can bet your ass that Mourinho would back him.

But can you imagine working under Di Canio? It’s clear now that any mistake will result in public humiliation and that just can’t be good for morale. Mistakes are a part of the game, and as a player - hell, as an employee in any job - you just can’t walk around all day fearing that you might put a foot wrong. It’s simply not conducive to good results. So far, Di Canio has not had to worry about this problem. Results have been good, dips rare, and the rationale of “whatever I am doing, it is working” could be used. Now, however, losses are building up, morale is dropping, and Di Canio is most certainly looking to blame anyone but himself.

Ruling by fear simply cannot last. If Di Canio is to become as good a manager as he was a player, then he might have to change his man-management tactics eventually. Either that or he’ll start upgrading his iron fist to something even stronger.