The rapid and stormy exit of Sunderland manager Paolo Di Canio, after just five matches played this season, mirrors the Italian’s fiery personality so aptly demonstrated by his unprecedented behaviour following the Black Cats’ 3-0 defeat at West Brom last Saturday. Di Canio faced up to angry and disappointed Sunderland away fans, gesturing “chin up”, in a most un-placatory manner. Few fans were disappointed with his sacking, precipitated by player revolt, but many believe Di Canio was given insufficient time to prove his worth, having been with the club for only 13 matches. But one point from five games this season tells its own story and Sunderland’s position at the bottom of the Premier League table is clearly untenable for owner, American Ellis Short.
Development coach, Kevin Ball, will act as caretaker manager commencing with tonight’s Capital One Cup third-round tie against Peterborough and probably continuing to be in charge for Sunday’s home fixture against Liverpool.
There is a busy betting market regarding the new manager, the sixth in less than five years, with Uruguayan Gus Poyet the favourite for the post. 45-year-old Poyet was asked to leave Brighton & Hove back in March, and subsequently turned down the opportunity to manage Reading, preferring to hold on for a Premiership job. Bookmaker Stan James offers betting odds of 3-1 that Poyet will be next Sunderland manager.
Former Chelsea manager,43-year-old Roberto Di Matteo had been favourite with the bookies to replace his fellow Italian but the betting market remains fluid regarding the appointment, and the odds for Di Matteo have drifted out to 6-1 from bookmaker Paddy Power.
Tony Pulis is another contender for the Sunderland job. The 55-year-old left Stoke City in May, after a 7-year tenure, following a disappointing run of form last season and Paddy Power offers odds of 15-2 that Tony Pulis will be next Sunderland manager.
Former Sunderland Manager, Steve Bruce, is also thought to be on the Sunderland Board’s short list. Bruce managed Sunderland from 2009 to 2011, taking over shortly after ownership of the club passed to Ellis Short, but working under the then chairman Niall Quinn. 52-year-old Bruce has displayed empathy for Di Canio’s plight, saying of the Italian “He’s a character. A manager’s lost his job. Management is a lonely place and he’s lost his job…I feel sorry for any manager in that position” whilst acknowledging that Di Canio’s critical and aggressive management style is outdated and undesirable. Fans may prefer a new face at the club, but bookmaker William Hill provides odds of 8-1 that the current Hull City manager will return to take charge of the Black Cats once more.
The bookies reckon others possibilities for the Sunderland role include Gianfranco Zola, Kevin Ball, Alex McLeish, and Mike Phelan but the Sunderland board is keeping mum on the composition of the short list. Di Canio and his team have left the Stadium of Light but the new structure under which they operated will remain and the new manager will work under director of football, Roberto De Fanti, and chief scout, Valentino Angeloni. This structure may prove unappealing to certain candidates who could also be dismayed at the recruitment of 14 summer signings. Sadly for the new manager, star striker Steven Fletcher dislocated his shoulder during the recent West Brom defeat and this injury’s expected long rehabilitation time could also limit Sunderland’s chances in the next few testing Premiership fixtures that include the Reds at home on 29 September, Manchester United at home on 5 October, Swansea away on 19 October and the north-east derby Newcastle at home on 27 October.
Paulo Di Canio’s behaviour won him few friends in Sunderland but the incoming manager – whoever that may be – will certainly acknowledge that the team’s two victories at the end of last season, shortly after the Italian’s controversial appointment, were crucial to retaining the club’s top-flight status and the £70 million income from broadcasting rights. It is unlikely that the club will make an announcement on the new appointment before the weekend.