Why Sunderland’s Di Canio can’t be judged until next term

Paolo Di Canio.
Paolo Di Canio.
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TITUS BRAMBLE became the first Sunderland player to publicly condemn Paolo Di Canio’s disciplinary approach yesterday after being told his contract will not be renewed at the Stadium of Light.

But, as CHRIS YOUNG argues, the effects of Di Canio’s no-nonsense standards cannot be gauged until next season is well underway.

TITUS Bramble’s rant against Paolo Di Canio’s iron-fisted rule came as little surprise.

Titus Bramble.

Titus Bramble.

The released Sunderland defender had no reason to harbour any affection towards the new Black Cats head coach.

Bramble didn’t play a single minute of Di Canio’s seven games in charge last season. He didn’t even make it as far as the bench, despite Sunderland’s woefully thin options.

A recurrence of Bramble’s knee injury was publicly the reason behind his exclusion, although there were few rueful noises from Di Canio at the 31-year-old’s absence.

While Sunderland’s decision not to offer Bramble a new contract was merely rubber-stamped by Di Canio, a fine for failing to reports for a weights session – which the defender claims he knew nothing about – only increased the schism between the pair.

The former Newcastle United defender was one of two Sunderland players to confer with the PFA over the legality of Di Canio’s fine.

Amid that background, it was perhaps inevitable that Bramble would be critical of Di Canio’s disciplinary methods when he broke his silence over severing his ties with Sunderland.

“He’s a young manager trying to stamp his mark on things, but he’s making some big mistakes,” said Bramble yesterday.

“He’s targeted the easy players, the ones who are leaving anyway, trying to show he’s the boss.

“I was fined for not going to a weights session. Everyone else at the club thought it was ridiculous, but he’s trying to be tough.”

Bramble’s swipe can possibly be attributed to sour grapes.

Certainly, Sunderland sources have been adamant that there was no widespread revolt against Di Canio at the tail end of the season and those senior players who will remain part of next year’s set-up felt the Italian had been hugely beneficial.

But the effect of Di Canio’s no-nonsense approach to discipline remains a grey area.

Supporters are almost unanimously behind a policy of eradicating any talk of a booze culture and making sure players attend training or team meetings on time.

He is quite right to be taking such an approach.

But the modern Premier League footballer is a difficult beast to handle.

For all fans rightly have little patience or sympathy with them, these are famous, extremely wealthy young men, who are used to enjoying a privileged existence.

While the trappings of being a footballer are a bonus to the majority, there are inevitably an element who revel in the lifestyle and will reject the headmasterly rule of a manager like Di Canio.

There is no doubt that Di Canio’s coaching methods are sound.

Sunderland were a far more organised, cohesive and fitter unit during those final seven games than they had previously managed under Martin O’Neill.

Even Bramble lauds Di Canio’s ability on the training field, despite his reservations over the other facets of his management.

“He’s a good coach on the training pitch,” he added.

“Everything is so detailed. He’s one of the best I’ve played for in that respect, but his man-management skills need a lot of work.”

Those coaching attributes, which saw Di Canio finish top of the class in collecting his Uefa badges, will need to be utilised to great effect next season, as he tries to gel a new-look squad, derived from across Europe and as it seems, South America.

But the questions over Di Canio’s disciplinary procedures, raised before he took charge of Sunderland, still remain unanswered.

Last season’s finale doesn’t really provide an accurate picture.

The memorable two victories over Newcastle and Everton can be attributed to the bounce effect, and greater organisational strategy of Di Canio, while the four games which followed were hugely swayed by Sunderland’s minimally thin squad.

Although such a stunning derby win, coupled with keeping Sunderland in the Premier League, have justifiably seen Di Canio win huge favour on the terraces, his methods can only be accurately judged next season.

Certainly, the double training sessions, the monitored diet and the absence of even a bottle of ketchup from the training ground, worked wonders for Di Canio at Swindon.

The Robins’ players were unsure of whether Di Canio was a maverick or maniac during the first couple of months of his reign after seeing their free time slashed.

But once they realised that Di Canio’s system produced results, they bought into it.

Premier League performers are obviously a different breed, with far more money and far more established reputations at the Stadium of Light.

Yet the principle still largely holds true.

If Sunderland start next season well, then the scrutiny over the disciplinarian philosophy will become redundant.

If not, it will remain an issue that a minority of players are likely to question.

Perhaps an influx of fresh faces from the Continent will reduce the prospect of dissent.

They are well-versed in the demands of double training sessions and strictly-controlled diet.

Such an approach is also prevalent among the Premier League’s leading lights and Di Canio is completely correct to be striving towards such high objectives.

But the early results of next season will provide a key indication of whether Bramble was in a minority, or whether Di Canio’s discipline will prove to be self-damaging.