‘We are close to signing Lionel Messi’.
Paolo Di Canio, 23rd May 2011.
Swindon is a typical English town – famed for a roundabout, trains and Melinda Messenger; renovated in the 1970’s into an aesthetically appalling concrete jungle with no redeemable features and where teenage conception rates are more similar to the levels found in Rwanda than Royal Tunbridge Wells. But one thing has always remained apparent – its football team have never done things by the book.
Osvaldo Ardilles, Glenn Hoddle, Lou Macari and Steve McMahon all began their managerial careers at the County Ground – all having won copious football trophies during their playing career – Ardilles even rocked up in Wiltshire in 1989 just over ten years after winning the Jules Rimet. The equivalent would be Xavi Hernandez joining the club in 2022. The Robins don’t do conventional managerial appointments. Di Canio fits that bill. Just ask Paul Alcock.
Within twenty-four hours of his arrival back in May, the GMB union pulled its sponsorship deal with the club following Di Canio’s contentious decision in the past to voice his admiration for Benito Mussolini. And as he’s proclaimed in previous years; ‘I am a fascist, not a racist’. Oh, well that’s alright then…
Players have naturally departed over the summer months – one significant factor to the clubs relegation last season was the departure of Gordon Greer, Billy Paynter and latterly Charlie Austin in January, and the complete failure to adequately replace them. Added to that list you can now include Jonathan Douglas, Jon-Paul McGovern, David Lucas, Scott Cuthbert, Alan Sheehan and Lecsinel Jean-François – all of whom started the 2010 League One play-off final against Millwall and who are now plying their trade elsewhere having been relegated just a couple of months ago.
Di Canio has been in touch with AC Milan to ask if they’ll loan him any players. Presumably he was laughed out of the San Siro. Instead he looked at archetypal journeymen such as Leon Knight – a man who the day before he was told he wouldn’t be required at Swindon after a short trial said he had ‘nothing to prove’; something that fans of Chelsea, QPR, Huddersfield Town, Sheffield Wednesday, Brighton, Swansea City, Barnsley, MK Dons, Wycombe Wanderers, Rushden & Diamonds, Thrasyvoulos Filis (who?), Hamilton Academicals, Queen of the South and Coleraine can all question along with Swindon fans.
In all seriousness, Leon Knight aside, Di Canio has been frantically bringing in players from all across the globe…Joe Devera, Alberto Comazzi, Raffaele De Vita, Oliver Risser, Jonathan Smith, Mattia Lanzano, Alessandro Cibocchi, Ibrahim Atiku, Mehdi Kerrouche, Alan Connell, Etienne Esajas and Alan McCormack are no fewer than twelve new names now gracing the squad list for 2011. How many have played in the Football League before? Three. Yes, those are alarm bells you can hear ringing in the distance. The new captain for the year, Oliver Risser, is a regular member of the Namibian national team, don’t you know!
Being a ‘big’ team in a league featuring clubs formed less than a decade ago and clubs immortalised by milk adverts, could have it’s downfalls. Employing a man such as Di Canio systematically means he’ll be drawn to a bigger club within months. This happened when Dennis Wise & Gus Poyet arrived at the County Ground as recently as 2006… thankfully they left their mark instantly and the club gained automatic promotion after such a strong start. That team included a full squad of players who had Football League experience. Were Di Canio to depart before Christmas and leave a team full of Italians, a Namibian, an Algerian, a Ghanaian and a Dutchmen who have never stepped foot in England before, let alone played on a cold, wet Tuesday night away at Morecambe, then the consequences could be dire.
A pocket of fans will never accept Di Canio due to his acknowledgement of a very right-wing view of society – it’s important to indicate the County Ground was a prisoner-of-war camp during the Second World War. Were results to come immediately and Di Canio were to weave the same magic he did as a player, that section of supporters will join the celebrating bandwagon on it’s merry march. Should Di Canio still be winless come around 3pm on Sunday 21st August then the vitriol towards him may increase to unassailable levels. The reason for such a specific time and date? The final whistle in the match between Swindon and Oxford will have just been blown. To heavily paraphrase Vince Lombardi for a moment, show me a rivalry that claims to be bigger in League Two than that of Swindon and Oxford and I’ll show you a rivalry.
In four months time you may find me describing Di Canio as an inevitable traitor for leaving the Robins high and dry in search of a bigger managerial role while we languish in the bottom half, or waxing lyrically as he’s performed the kind of transformation that would make Midas’ touch appear quite rusty. That’s what defines the enigma of Paolo Di Canio – you never know what you’re going to get. Swindon have risked it all before on these Forrest Gump-style managers – a big name who could make or break the club…and yet the Robins are still standing. Just.
‘This is my destiny’, proclaimed Paolo upon arrival at the County Ground, and then charmed the awaiting media with witticisms of signing Lionel Messi. Rather than recite a passage from the works of Prus or a quote from Aristotle to describe his ambitions in a place such as Swindon; he remembered he was no longer strolling through the streets of Rome, and merely declared he wanted players “with two big bollocks”.
Welcome to the world of Paolo, Swindon… What was that about never doing things by the book?
Written by Carl McQueen – We Are Going Up! Podcast member and Swindon Town Blogger
Carl tweets at @mrcarlmcqueen