LONDON – Ellis Short is a billionaire, rich beyond the dreams of most.
The American owner of Sunderland achieved this by being one step ahead of his business rivals, making shrewd and correct decisions while appointing the best senior management.
So why on earth did Short even consider making Paolo di Canio manager of his club last March, let alone offer the Italian a 2½-year contract?
Di Canio will be remembered as one of the worst, least popular Premier League managers of all-time, and his chances of finding work at the top level again are roughly the same as me becoming prime minister.
Would Short have appointed someone who had never worked above local level to one of his national companies?
Would Short have entertained someone who was a self-proclaimed fascist and openly admired Benito Mussolini?
But on Planet Football business logic goes out of the window and every football writer in England has been proven correct. Di Canio’s reign at the Stadium of Light ended quickly and in tears, though when he was sacked last Monday they were tears of joy from the players and staff.
The stunning thing is, Short and chief executive Margaret Byrne were surprised at initial criticism of the appointment. Typical negative press.
So what if di Canio was a fascist-sympathizing manager with no experience even in the Championship, let alone the Premier League?
True, Sunderland stayed up and we’ll never know if they would have survived under Martin O’Neill. Mission accomplished, perhaps, but his style at Swindon was described as hand-grenade management and di Canio didn’t take long to explode at Sunderland.
Di Canio ran a boot camp rather than a football club. Among his rules were players not being able to make eye contact with club staff on match days, singing in the showers (it disturbs concentration), no mayonnaise, ketchup or Coca-Cola (“they can cause chemical problems to the liver . . . I’ve known players to have ice with their Coke the night before a game and then couldn’t play”), no coffee or cheeseburgers (“I ban my daughter from going to places like that”).
He tried to make it the Stadium of Fright and it backfired spectacularly.
Di Canio criticized his players in public and some of his outburst, such as “they have rubbish for brains,” were the rantings of a man who should not be in charge of a Fantasy Football Team, let alone the real thing.
One point from the first five matches and bottom of the Premier League saw Short grant the players’ wish and di Canio was history after 175 days of mayhem and 13 games in all. Di Canio signed more players than games he was in charge for. He will be missed as much as toothache.
“I always believe I am the best manager in the world,” claimed the deluded dictator. He will not find a seconder for that.
Short will be embarrassed with the di Canio fiasco and a man who says little in public has unsurprisingly been silent this week as he searches for a successor.
Gus Poyet, fired by Brighton in May, is the early favorite to take over, and the Uruguayan has been preparing for his next job in a vulture manner. He explained: “Since the start of the season, I’ve dedicated myself to watching the games of teams that might call me if things weren’t going too well.”
For the time being the players are just happy to be able to sing in the showers, smile, laugh and chat to the tea ladies. With senior professional development coach Kevin Ball in charge, Sunderland beat Peterborough 2-0 to move into the last 16 of the League Cup.
It remains a mystery how Short allowed his manager to spend £19 million on 14 new players and sell 11 during the summer.
Di Canio has not changed in the last four months — he was the same hand-grenade manager when he was sacked as he was when he was given the job.
MICHAEL OWEN could hardly contain his enthusiasm. “Whenever I talk to Manchester United players, they rave about Shinji Kagawa,” he said. “For me he is a terrific player and David Moyes is missing a trick if he doesn’t play him.”
The Japan international has been the subject of many newspaper and radio phone-ins: why isn’t he in the United team?
He played in the 1-0 League Cup win over Liverpool — his second start of the season — but was a peripheral figure, hardly strengthening the argument for his inclusion. Then again, apart from Wayne Rooney no United player has really caught the eye this season.
In fact, since joining United from Borussia Dortmund last year Kagawa has struggled to establish himself, the midfielder not helped by injuries.
At Dortmund, Kagawa usually played as a shadow striker behind Robert Lewandowski. Against Liverpool he operated on the right hand side of an attack led by Rooney and the suspicion is Moyes has not yet worked out how to get the best out of Kagawa.
Maroune Fellaini and Michael Carrick occupy the most deep-lying midfield places, with Antonio Valencia, Tom Cleverley, Nani, Anderson, Ryan Giggs, Ashley Young and the highly rated Adnan Januzaj competing for various midfield attacking roles in different formations.
Moyes believes Kagawa is still short of match fitness and he probably needs to bulk-up a little to meet the demands of the Premier League.
Dortmund would love to have him back and a January return to Germany cannot be ruled out. With the World Cup next summer, Kagawa will want to be playing more regularly than he is at present and the competition for places at United plus a manager unsure how to use him make the immediate future uncertain for the 24-year-old.
Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.