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|Paolo DI CANIO|
After relegation to League Two in 2011, closely followed by the sacking of manager Paul Hart and chairman Andrew Fitton stepping down from his position, new Town chairman Jeremy Wray surprisingly appointed di Canio as the new boss shortly after the season ended - the Italian beating off strong competition from Dietmar Hamann and former manager of the year George Burley to take the hotseat, with chief executive Nick Watkins describing di Canio as "the most impressive candidate he had ever seen". With di Canio signing an initial two year deal, with an option of a third, the interest around his appointment was immediate - with 'Swindon Town' trending on internet site Twitter, both worldwide and as the number one topic in the UK in the hours before the announcement was made. Not all of the press was complimentary though, with di Canio's impulsive style, many pundits predicted that the appointment was doomed to failure - and with his well-publicised right-wing political preference, a minor sponsor at the club, the GMB Union, withdrew their sponsorship of reserve team goalkeeper Mark Scott in response to his arrival.
With many players departing the club following relegation, di Canio had his work cut out to assemble a squad for the new season - and a string of triallists from all over the world joined up with the Town for the pre-season preparations - men from Italy, Ghana, Namibia, Algeria, Austria, Estonia, Uruguay, Brazil, Argentina and the Netherlands were all courted, with twelve players signing before the season started. and Six of the new men started the season's opening game with Crewe - and after di Canio had impressed with his detailed knowledge of the Railwaymen in his pre-match press conference, after a nervy start, the Town registered an eventually comfortable 3-0 victory.
Over the next few weeks though, it looked like the pundits may have had it right, as Swindon lost their next four league games - including the first home defeat to local rivals Oxford for 38 years, when di Canio's attempt at mind games with U's striker James Constable backfired. After describing Constable as 'a big Swindon fan' and admitting that he would like the player in his own team, Constable scored twice for the U's in a 2-1 victory, kissing the U's badge in a match that saw di Canio sent to the stands.
Things came to a head at the end of the month - after Swindon had been knocked out of the Carling Cup versus Southampton, di Canio stepped in to diffuse a situation between new striker Leon Clarke and fitness coach Claudio Donatelli - but as di Canio attempted to usher Clarke down the tunnel away from the television cameras, the striker pushed him away - when they finally did make it, the cameras captured pictures of an altercation between the pair, in which it appeared that punches were thrown. Chairman Jeremy Wray was quick to back his manager, and though the media were quick to jump on the story as another incident involving the Italian, TV footage soon proved di Canio's side of the argument - and Clarke had played his last game for Swindon. The following weekend, the cameras were again at the County Ground, this time to witness the Town come twice from behind, to clinch a 3-2 victory over Rotherham, and they also saw the unity of the rest of the squad with the manager - Matt Ritchie running to di Canio to celebrate the Town's opening goal.
Swindon beat two other promotion rivals in their next two matches - already depleted in defence, injury to Oliver Risser against Southend saw di Canio move midfielder Alan McCormack into the back four, and it proved to be a masterstroke - after beating the Shrimpers 2-0, McCormack stayed in that position for the rest of the season, eventually winning the Player of the Season award. Three days later, travelling Town fans took great joy in chanting '3-0 to the circus team' as Swindon thumped Crawley on their own patch - after Crawley boss Steve Evans had described the Town as 'the Paolo di Canio circus' in the lead up to the game, the Town boss hit back, saying that he had "laughed in the face of 70,000 Manchester United fans when I scored, you can imagine if I am worried about the words of someone I have never heard of?" The victories ensured that di Canio was nominated for the September Manager of the Month award, only to lose out to Southend's manager, former Town boss Paul Sturrock.
Still though, the Town's form had not hit top gear, especially away from home - and after a 2-0 defeat at Macclesfield, di Canio urged his team to develop a mean streak, using a bizarre metaphor - saying that if a player "has a chihuahua character, I can't make a chihuahua into a rottweiler. He could be a proud chihuahua, but he remains a chihuahua". After Matt Ritchie had been denied a clear penalty during the game, he also called for his players to dive if presented with the same situation again. Di Canio constantly made adjustments - bringing in numerous players on loan, changing his starting eleven to suit the opposition, even stripping original choice Oliver Risser of the captaincy to help him focus on his game.
Soon the tinkering began to pay off. The arrival of goalkeeper Wes Foderingham and defender Liam Ridehalgh on loan coincided with the Town keeping clean sheets in their next five games - a superb one-touch move giving the Town victory at Plymouth, a Matt Ritchie thunderbolt opening the scoring in a 2-0 win over Gillingham - the run seeing Swindon move into the play-off places. It was just the start of an incredible sequence of home games that would see the Town concede just one more goal in the League at the County Ground for the rest of the season. Players that were deemed to not be pulling their weight were sidelined, and even top scorer Mehdi Kerrouche was not immune - di Canio dropping the Algerian after being unhappy with his effort in training - the board continually backing the Italian whenever he felt the need to dip into the loan market.
Over Christmas, Swindon lost their first match in eleven at Torquay, and went behind at Northampton on New Years' Eve - but after Alan Connell netted an equaliser, a purposeful run from Alan McCormack ended with the Irishman netting an injury time winner in front of a packed travelling support - prompting di Canio to run half the length of the pitch to celebrate with his team and fans, only to be immediately sent to the stands on his return. Away from the league, having already reached the Area Final of the Johnstone's Paint Trophy, and having seen off higher level opposition in Huddersfield and Colchester in the FA Cup, Swindon performed a giant-killing in the Third Round - coming from behind to beat Premier League Wigan.
The last gasp victory at Sixfields was the start of another superb run - the Town clocking up a club record of ten straight victories in the league. Banished to the stands for a win at Rotherham, di Canio was once again sent there in his first game back on the touchline against Macclesfield - reacting angrily when a foul on defender Aden Flint went unpunished, di Canio was adamant that he didn't leave the technical area or use bad language - insisting that the technical area was his to do what he wished in, he commented that "if they want to send me off every game, then no problem. We will win this league anyway" - the post-match press conference being seen around the world after going viral on the internet. The winning run also prompted di Canio to backtrack on his chihuahua comparison - saying that "when a dog is a puppy you can confuse a chihuahua with a baby rottweiler that is only one month old. Now they are adult rottweilers."
The Macclesfield win was followed by a superb 4-1 win at fellow promotion chasers Southend - di Canio applauding his players with the travelling support, as Swindon moved into the automatic promotion places for the first time. A week later, the Town sealed a place at Wembley, beating Barnet in the Johnstone's Paint Trophy in the Area Final - before di Canio again returned to the stands for the rematch with Steve Evans' Crawley, when the Town again won 3-0, di Canio thanked the FA for the ban, stating that he had a clearer view of the game, and giving them permission to ban him again, "because my team know what they are doing". A fortunate victory in a top-of-the-table clash with Shrewsbury meant that Swindon topped the league for the first time since the opening day - and after missing out on the January award to Torquay boss Martin Ling, six victories out of six in February secured the Manager of the Month award for the Town boss. By the end of the run, the sight of di Canio holding his scarf aloft in post-match celebration became commonplace - one of the iconic images of a superb season.
Unfortunately, the curse of the award struck before it had even been announced, at the worst possible venue. After di Canio had reignited his interest in James Constable in the January transfer window, initially agreeing a fee with Oxford, only for the deal to fall through - Constable claiming that he decided not to talk to Swindon, di Canio claiming that he pulled out of the deal when Constable asked for more time to consider the move - this time it appeared that the Italian had won the mind games, the Oxford striker sent off for a flailing elbow on Joe Devera just eleven minutes into the return derby. Incredibly though, seven minutes later, the Town were two down - former loan winger Lee Holmes the architect of the goals - the U's holding on for the rest of the game. Despite defeat, di Canio defiantly proceeded with his post-match scarf routine - and as he did so, he pointed to the sky for Swindon, then pointed to the Oxford fans and pointed downwards - insinuating that though the Town may have lost the battle, they would still win the war. Two weeks later, di Canio moved in to snatch Holmes from under Oxford's noses - agreeing a loan deal with Southampton just as the U's expected to renew his deal.
The Town recovered quickly - thumping Dagenham 4-0 just days later, before a fortunate 1-0 win over second placed Cheltenham saw them move eight points clear at the top of the league - ten days later, Swindon saw off their nearest challengers again, beating Torquay 2-0. That game came just days before the Johnstone's Paint Trophy final at Wembley, where the Town would face League One Chesterfield - and though the Spireites were in the league above, Swindon went into the game as favourites, with their opponents bottom of the division. Di Canio sprung a big surprise with his line-up - after signing Jay McEveley and John Bostock on loan just days previously, he handed both their debuts at the national stadium - McEveley starting at left back, Bostock coming on from the bench - but on a sweltering hot day (during which di Canio continued to wear his lucky green coat and scarf), Chesterfield upset the odds to win 2-0.
Normal service was resumed in April though, as Swindon won their opening four games of the month - after victories at Barnet and Morecambe, a late goal from Lee Holmes handed the Town victory over Northampton, leaving them on the brink of promotion. Di Canio seemed strangely subdued in the next game, and though an Alan Connell goal sealed victory over Plymouth, meaning that promotion was all but assured, the Town boss was conspicuous by his absence - and though the crowd waited for him to emerge, it was left to Jeremy Wray to break the news that di Canio's mother had passed away two days previously, and that he had left immediately to return to Italy. It was a tragic coincidence that his father had already passed away earlier in the season, that too in the same week as the Town had beaten Plymouth.
Again showing incredible professionalism, di Canio returned to the bench just three days later, as Swindon travelled to Aldershot in search of the single point that would assure their elevation - and when the Shots commendably marked the occasion with a minute's silence, the packed away support raised their scarves in a sea of red and white in tribute. Di Canio seemingly picked a strange starting eleven, and though he thanked the club's fans for the kindness and compassion they had shown, he was scathing in his assessment of the Town's performance, accusing some players of celebrating too early in a late night drinking session. Though a group of five players apologised for their conduct afterwards, four more were left out of the next game at Gillingham when the Town boss discovered their involvement - and the Town limped over the line, despite losing the game 3-1, results elsewhere meant that promotion was assured.
When the remaining players also apologised, di Canio had his full squad to choose from for the penultimate game of the season, and the team turned on the style - and in thumping Port Vale 5-0, the League Two championship was assured, sparking memorable celebrations after the match. Di Canio dedicated the victory to the memory of his parents - collecting his medal wearing a T-shirt with photos of the couple, and the message "Mamma Papa guardate tutto questo grazil a voi!" ("Look Mama Papa, all this is thanks to you!"). Soon after, di Canio was named as the League Managers' Association Manager of the Year.
News of the award was overshadowed though, when the Daily Mail printed a story claiming that the FA was investigating an allegation of racial abuse against di Canio - former loan player Jonathan Téhoué having made a complaint against the Italian. The Town board quickly jumped to the defence of di Canio - stating that they had already conducted their own internal investigation into the incident, and that they were "satisfied that it was without merit". Though further revelations were printed by the Mail and reported by the BBC, the board again reiterated their stance - and went further to suggest that it was Téhoué who was in fact in breach of contract. A day after the latest statement, it was announced that di Canio had signed a two year extension to his contract, taking his deal up to the end of 2015 - and di Canio commented on the situation for the first time, saying that "the true story will come out one day and one person will be in trouble, but it's not Paolo di Canio, for sure".
Di Canio was ruthless in his preparation for the new season, letting two of his key first team players - Jonathan Smith and top scorer Alan Connell - leave for nothing, and also allowing Lee Cox to join Oxford on loan.
Once again, di Canio had a busy summer, and he showed no room for sentiment in his preparation for the new season, letting two of his key first team players - Jonathan Smith and top scorer Alan Connell - leave for nothing, and also allowing Lee Cox to join Oxford on loan. In June, six key signings were made in the space of three days - the arrivals of James Collins, Gary Roberts, Andy Williams, Jay McEveley, Tommy Miller and Alan Navarro signalling the Town’s intent for the coming season - Troy Archibald-Henville also arriving before the season began. Most surprising though was the departure of captain Paul Caddis, whom di Canio accused of not having the same attitude since the Scot had become a father - and just three months after di Canio had lifted the League Two championship trophy alongside Caddis, he stripped the defender of the captaincy, dropped him from the first team squad, and he was eventually loaned to Birmingham.
At times, di Canio seemed hell bent on making sure his players knew that there would be no room for slacking - despite a superb start to the season (August bringing two League wins and a draw, as well as the scalps of Brighton and Premier League Stoke in the League Cup), the Italian brought in five more players before the transfer deadline - John Bostock returning on loan, along with three loan players (Darren Ward, Giles Coke and Adam Rooney), plus Fede Bessone on a short-term contract. Again though, di Canio was to hit the headlines in early September, when he substituted goalkeeper Wes Foderingham with the Town 2-0 down at Preston - the Town boss accusing Foderingham of arrogance, and behaving “worst professional” he has ever seen - before threatening to drop him from the side if he failed to apologise. After ‘clear the air’ talks the following day, Foderingham issued a public apology and was reinstated into the team - and ultimately, the mind-games with his keeper worked - despite no real competition for his position, other than first year professional Leigh Bedwell, Foderingham went on to be named in the PFA Team of the Year.
Unfortunately, the team that Foderingham was reinstated to again lost to local rivals Oxford, this time after being drawn against the U’s in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy. After handing debuts to four of his new signings, di Canio stated that he travelled back to Swindon with “pain in his stomach” after the 1-0 defeat – days later, he described the Town’s performance in another 1-0 defeat, this time at home to Leyton Orient, as the worst he had seen at the County Ground during his tenure – he later called for his players to follow his methods “with devotion”, whilst also claiming that the events of the past fortnight proved that he had moved “twenty steps forward” as a manager since joining the club.
After drawing at Carlisle, the Town soon got back to winning ways – a 2-1 win at Portsmouth was followed with a thumping 4-0 win over Bournemouth, before Championship side Burnley were convincingly dumped out of the Carling Cup with a 3-1 home win. After another win at Shrewsbury propelled Swindon into the play-off places, they seemed to take another dive in form, winning just one of the first five games in October – one defeat at home to Colchester prompting di Canio to state that it proved that his side was “average”. The downturn on the pitch coincided with a transfer embargo off it - and when chairman Jeremy Wray confirmed that the club could not sign players due to unexpectedly strict rules applied to fees set by tribunal for Troy Archibald-Henville and James Collins, which took the club’s playing budget over the 65% limit set by the League, di Canio initially called for the board to rectify the situation – fearing that the Town’s promotion bid could be derailed. It was the first sign that perhaps all was not rosy behind the scenes – and though rumours linking the Italian with the vacant position at Bolton were quickly quashed, when the embargo moved into its third week, di Canio stated that he would have to consider his position at the club if nothing was done, as “the plan, which was to reach the Championship in three years… has changed”. Soon after, Wray was removed from his position by club owner Andrew Black, to be replaced by the former British Ambassador to Afghanistan and Iraq, Sir William Patey – and di Canio was quick to release a statement, expressing sadness that Wray had been replaced, wanting clarity on what this meant for the club - and that up until this point, he felt that “Swindon was the place where I could achieve success”.
By the end of the month, di Canio pledged to stay following a positive meeting with the new chairman – but with the embargo still in place, he first claimed that the transfer ban had cost the Town at least three, and possibly as many as six points – only to then declare that he “feared relegation” if he was not able to add to his injury depleted side, after defeat at Crewe. With Premier League Aston Villa due to visit the County Ground the following week, di Canio stated that the cup game took more priority than the League match at Stevenage, as the cup run had the potential to lift the embargo – but though he left a number of first team regulars out, and his original selection had to be changed at the last minute when Troy Archibald-Henville starting vomiting during the warm up – the Town thrashed their second placed hosts 4-0.
The cup-tie against Villa proved to be a corker – in a jam packed County Ground, there seemed little chance of an upset when the Premier League side took a two goal lead going into the break, but the introduction of youngster Miles Storey turned the game around – the striker netting twice within six minutes of entering the fray. Though the Town were knocked out by a last minute winner from Christian Benteke, it was di Canio who made the headlines – his after-match antics appearing to signal to the crowd that Swindon were going up, and Villa would be going down – though he later claimed that he meant that his side’s performance was a higher standard than their Premier opponents. Days later, any hopes of a run in the FA Cup were also dashed, with a poor display in a home defeat to League Two strugglers Macclesfield – a performance that prompted di Canio to ask the board if he could fine the players for unprofessional behaviour.
After what was described as a “positive” meeting between di Canio, Patey and club owner Black in early November, the transfer embargo was finally lifted – and though the Town boss took exception to Patey’s comments that more diligence needed to be taken when signing new players, he found that his original loan targets were no longer available – but he eventually brought in Danny Hollands and Chris Martin on loan from Charlton and Norwich respectively, while allowing Luke Rooney to go to Rotherham. On the pitch, back-to-back wins over Walsall and Yeovil were followed by back-to-back defeats against Brentford and Notts County – in such a tight division, Swindon moved up to third in the League, before a draw against Doncaster saw them slip as low as eighth.
Characteristically, di Canio declared that under a different manager “this team can probably sink and sink” – but under him, they would not, as he was prepared to make tough decisions to keep performances high – he also stated that twenty games into the season, his side only truly deserved to have lost one game. In a press conference prior to the match at Oldham in mid-December, di Canio let fly with a twenty minute rant, claiming that he was working in a “hostile environment” at Swindon, that he almost left the club two months previously, and that he was willing to “fight 100,000 people” to instil his levels of discipline and professionalism at the club. When di Canio clarified this statement, to say that the hostile environment he referred to was not at boardroom level before launching into a tirade about the Town’s youth system – chairman Patey stated that there was “no great crisis or tension” at the County Ground, suggesting that the Italian had been misquoted – only for the Town boss himself to confirm that he hadn’t, and deny the chairman’s claims that he became overly emotional or frustrated.
Amazingly though, the Christmas period saw the Town go on a superb run of form, scoring sixteen goals in four games without reply – prompting Sky Sports to bizarrely compare the Town’s record to the very top sides in Europe. A 2-0 win at Oldham was followed with a 5-0 thrashing of top-of-the-table Tranmere, before the Town repeated the feat against struggling Portsmouth, with striker James Collins coming off the bench in the second half to net four times. Four days later, Carlisle were also swept aside – and though the crowd inevitably chanted for a fifth goal after Raffa de Vita netted their fourth in the 80th minute, it wasn’t forthcoming.
With the Town now firmly in the promotion hunt, di Canio called for Andrew Black to fund loanees Hollands, Martin and John Bostock for the remainder of the campaign – but it was soon revealed that Black had pulled forward £500,000 of agreed funding from January to November to get the club out of the transfer embargo – William Patey’s comments that the dream scenario would be “the Championship with new investors and new owners” prompted worried comments from some Town fans. After di Canio stated that he would be willing to pay £30,000 of his own cash to fund the loans, one Town fan attempted to reintroduce fans to the Trust’s Red Army Fund to help as well – a move that brought some donations and much scorn. Hollands and Martin eventually had their loans extended by a month, John Bostock left the club after he didn’t respond to the club’s offer of an extension, and Oliver Risser also departed, having his contract paid up in full.
After the Town were held to a draw by a rejuvenated Bournemouth side, it was finally confirmed that owner Andrew Black was no longer willing to fund the club – and a bombshell was delivered that the club could consider going into administration as one option to restructure the club’s finances. After ploughing over £10 million into the club, Black stated that the time was right to sell it – and over the coming weeks, numerous buyers threw their hats into the ring. On the pitch, Swindon beat Shrewsbury to move up to third in the table – postponements meaning that the next match wasn’t played until the end of the month, in a goalless draw at Leyton Orient – the following day, the Swindon Advertiser reported first that investors were locked in talks, before the takeover was agreed. Late in the day, it was announced that Black had sold his shares to a consortium led by Banbury United owner Jed McCrory – even later, it was announced that star player Matt Ritchie had been sold to fellow promotion chasers Bournemouth for a cut price £500,000 fee. Though the move angered supporters, it was later revealed that the sale staved off the threat of administration – with Black unwilling to fund the club further, the upfront cash deal funded the club over the period of the takeover going through.
Though obviously surprised by the developments, di Canio seemed reasonably at ease with them at first – claiming that the first he heard was from Ritchie himself, and that he had originally thought the deal was a joke – but his mood soon changed when the Football League failed to ratify loan moves for three players on transfer deadline day; with terms agreed to bring Marlon Pack, Bradley Wright-Phillips and Danny Green to the club on temporary deals, their registrations were refused – the club under another embargo due to the takeover deal. A day later, di Canio announced that he was considering his position at the club – stating that the sale of Ritchie without his prior knowledge was a breach of his contract, and that “if it wasn’t for the players and fans of Swindon Town, I would have walked away from this club a long time ago”.
A televised draw at Crawley saw Town fans holding up banners in an attempt to persuade di Canio to stay – the Town boss visibly subdued during and after the game, before refusing to comment on the speculation that he would leave the club. The Adver launched a campaign of their own, sending messages to di Canio to urge him to stay on – almost to prove a point, the Town boss named only four players on the bench for the trip to Colchester, where a 1-0 win moved Swindon back up to third place. Soon after, the Daily Mirror ran a story claiming that new chairman McCrory planned to sack di Canio to reduce the wage bill, claims that were rubbished by the new supremo – McCrory breaking the non-disclosure agreement of the takeover to state that although he had never met the Italian personally, he was looking forward to working with di Canio.
The Town boss eventually met with the prospective owners prior to a game against Hartlepool – and though he declared that he was overwhelmed by the “special reception” he received during the game, his side could only stutter to a 1-1 draw, and he again refused to be drawn on his future – two days later, di Canio quit the club, claiming that he had originally tendered his resignation a week earlier, only for a short-term agreement to be drawn up that would see him remain as boss, providing the takeover had been ratified by the Football League by February 18 – when this failed to materialise, he confirmed his departure.
The following day, his backroom staff took charge for a 3-1 victory at Tranmere that saw the Town leapfrog their opponents and to the top of the table – rumours among the travelling support that di Canio would be sat among them during the game proving to be false. Caretaker boss Fabrizio Piccareta dedicated the victory to di Canio, declaring that they had carried out his instructions for the game - before confirming that the backroom staff would also be leaving the club, leaving the Town in the strange position of having no managerial staff, and no board to appoint any. It was two more days before the takeover was finally completed, but the saga did not stop there – the now former Town boss releasing a statement to refute comments made by outgoing chairman Sir William Patey, promising to reveal all on what really happened – before he was caught on CCTV returning to the County Ground in the dead of night to retrieve mementos of his tenure. With the takeover finalised, Andrew Black took to social media site Twitter to give a late night blow-by-blow account of his version of events in 140 characters – stating that he never wanted to be there for the long-term, that he “never signed up” to the three-year plan that di Canio regularly referred to, and claiming that he had been on the verge of selling the club prior to the Italian’s arrival, before the deal fell through. He also revealed that he had fallen out with both previous chairman Andrew Fitton and Jeremy Wray, that he had only met di Canio a handful of times, and the whole process of how the final deal came about – confirming that he sold the club “free of all callable debts”, effectively wiping out the £10 million he could have been owed - and also confirming that he had signed off the sale of Matt Ritchie to Bournemouth. He finished up by stating that he hadn’t yet decided if di Canio was good at his job, but he was pleased that he had resigned, and that he thought he saw himself as “bigger than the club”, his resignation at least giving the new owners the chance to pick a manager they can work with. Needless to say, di Canio challenged the statement with a statement of his own – firstly refuting Black’s statement as a “distorted version of what actually happened”, and secondly that he hadn’t broken into the County Ground – he’d been let in by some of his backroom staff, who were still company employees.
Despite all of the goings-on, di Canio was still favourite with the bookmakers to be reinstated as the next Town manager – chairman McCrory leaving the door ajar, saying that he would be willing to discuss the position with the Italian. Soon after though, di Canio declared that his “chapter at Swindon was finished” in an exclusive interview with Sky Sports News, and that he no longer wanted any speculation linking him with a return, as it was “not fair for the fans” – though he also stated that had he have been called by the new consortium before the agreed 5pm deadline on February 18th, he may well have remained at the club.
MANAGERIAL RECORD AT SWINDON:
date of birth