Wednesday 13 December 2017

Di Matteo favourite to step in as Sunderland pull plug on Di Canio

West Brom 3 Sunderland 0

John Percy

PAOLO DI CANIO was not waving during his surreal mime of penitence on a deserted pitch at the Hawthorns on Saturday, following another abject Sunderland defeat. He was drowning as the exit sign loomed.

The end duly came last night when the club announced that the Italian had left the club "by mutual consent" after being in charge for six turbulent months.

Former player Kevin Ball will act as caretaker manager for tomorrow night's League Cup match against Peterborough, with Roberto di Matteo the favourite to be appointed on a permanent basis.

Tony Pulis, Gus Poyet and Steve McClaren are also under consideration.

Sunderland are bottom of the Premier League and the trolley-dash of 14 new players this summer quickly looked a mistake. Yet Di Canio was defiant after Saturday's match when asked whether he would ever consider walking away.

"What? Never. I always believe that I am the best manager in the world," he said. "Why should I have to walk out? I have been working 24 hours a day.

"The 24 players have to adapt to me. The players have to adapt to one person. The manager has to try to find the key to achieve the best from every person.

"I am a warrior. I will fight to turn it around because I am a top man, a top manager. I will go to a place and do the best I can to get the respect of the people that gave me the chance."

It was typical Di Canio and reminiscent of Stephen Fry's General Melchett character in 'Blackadder Goes Forth', when he remarked: "If nothing else works, a total pig-headed unwillingness to look facts in the face will see us through."

The Sunderland board, who backed the Italian significantly in this summer's transfer window, were finally prompted to act having seen no sign of any tangible progress on the pitch and become fed up with Di Canio's antics.

Di Canio's appointment last March was designed to energise Sunderland towards a late push for survival and eradicate the inertia of Martin O'Neill's final months.

However, most observers thought it highly unlikely to work beyond a short-term jolt to the senses and that Di Canio's lack of managerial experience at this level would be found out.

With league games against Liverpool, Manchester United, Swansea and Newcastle up next, the man who replaces the Italian is facing a genuine battle to get them back on track.

Suddenly, the League Cup tie at home to Peterborough tomorrow night has taken on added significance.

Di Canio spent almost three minutes stood in front of the Sunderland fans post-match on Saturday in an attempt to absorb the anger, after an insipid performance from the team he has built, but the response was hostile.

"If I was in their position, I would be more furious than them," he said. "Can I understand that they blame me? Absolutely. I did much worse when I was a fan.

"I can't tell you what I did, otherwise they are going to arrest me.

SACRIFICES

"They are absolutely right. But I hope that one day those people, with that body language, will celebrate with a smile.

"They are right. They pay money, they suffer. They make sacrifices. One day I will leave, the players will leave, but they will remain."

While Sunderland's problems are piling up with each passing week, West Brom's win on Saturday was a result for Steve Clarke to savour.

He has been a target for criticism after an alarming run since Christmas but this was the Albion of early last season, with Sunderland unable to cope with Clarke's arsenal of attacking options.

Stephane Sessegnon scored the first goal, against the club who let him go on deadline day, before Liam Ridgewell extinguished any hopes of a Sunderland reprieve with the second.

Morgan Amalfitano, a winger signed on loan from Marseille, had an excellent home debut and added a deserved third for Albion.

(© Daily Telegraph, London)

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