Sunderland: Why Di Canio’s appointment is wrong

“I am a fascist, not a racist”.

Good for you Paulo.

Back in 2005, before Di Canio went on his very obvious public relations tour of the UK’s media, counteracting a spell at Lazio before taking on his first managerial position, Di Canio uttered the words that you can see above. He is not a racist, he hastily says, but merely a man who adores Mussolini, who allied with Hitler, who stripped the rights of the individual from his people, who helped plunge the world into war and led to the untimely and massively unfortunate deaths of millions in a fight to protect the freedoms of the people of Europe. So really, Paulo, you’re just openly supporting your dictators of this world, those who ruin the lives of those they rule over, not any genocides they may carry out. Good for you.

The problem in criticising managers of a staunch anti-individualist political bent is that they can often think about the collective, which is quite useful tactically. Di Canio’s politics are the same. Valery Lobanovsky was the generator of total football in Eastern Europe, and part of this can be credited to his staunch beliefs in Communism. His love of the collective, the need for the team to perform above the individuals, explains his successes. Di Canio’s lack of tolerance of players who have questioned him likely comes from the same segment of political thought, except on the other side of the political spectrum. After all, it has been said that the spectrum is more often a toilet. For this reason, Di Canio could quite easily find himself achieving.

Up front, I’m a left-leaning person who finds Labour far too central for my liking. I’m also Jewish, so it would be very odd to find me agreeing with anyone who idolises Mussolini. However, I have become increasingly convinced over the last few weeks that I would have been incredibly disappointed with Di Canio taking over at Leeds United. I saw it as too much of a risk to appoint him, not just for his political leaning, but also for what he has achieved and how he has achieved it. A step into the Premier League is even more of a risk.

Yes he took Swindon up, and guided them into a great position in League One. However, there was clause after clause in his contract that meant Swindon were obligated to bring in talent above and beyond their means. He left them in a financial lurch, on the cusp of administration if they hadn’t found new ownership.

He’s also known as a fire-brand, and people wanted to bring him in at Leeds due to the notion that he’d get the players motivated. I’ve become increasingly convinced that this isn’t enough anymore. Tactics are the name of the game, and it is imperative that a coach has both that and serviceable man management in his locker. Look at Villas-Boas, who was criticised for his lack of man management last season. The players at Spurs all love him now, and what did it take? A single move out of the Mourinho locker – sending texts out to players asking how they were doing, which Ibrahimovic said Jose did when he was at Inter, and Spurs players have hinted at. That is all that is needed this day – players have too much power to be harangued by someone shouting at them or taking them on trips to Cornwall, especially in the Premier League.

Di Canio is the wrong appointment politically, and I praise David Milliband for resigning and not taking the easy route of being political about it. He’s probably not going to be a massive improvement on O’Neill, who at one point could motivate players to run through brick walls for him, but was completely caught out tactically over and over in his time at Sunderland. Football requires more these days, and I’m not convinced Di Canio has it.

Follow Amitai Winehouse on Twitter (@awinehouse1).

Huddersfield Town: Bruce Return Brings Back Painful Memories for Terriers

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When Steve Bruce brings his Hull City side to the John Smith’s Stadium on Saturday, it will be the first time he has managed a side in front of the Huddersfield faithful since he was sacked as manager in October 2000. At the time of Bruce’s sacking Town had recorded just 1 win in their opening 19 league games of the 2000-01 season. This nightmare start ultimately did irreparable damage to Town’s season as they eventually fell through the relegation trapdoor on the last day of the season. Though Town have had plenty of inept managers both before and after Bruce – Mick Wadsworth, Andy Ritchie and Stan Ternent immediately spring to mind – it is Bruce who is still held in the lowest regard by the majority of Town fans.

Perhaps part of the reason for Bruce’s unpopularity is the fact that things were so encouraging at the start of his tenure. Backed by the millions of local electronics tycoon Barry Rubery, Bruce established a team that was challenging for at least a play-off spot for the vast majority of the season. High profile signings included Ken Monkou, Clyde Wjinhard and Dean Gorre and for the first few months of the season Bruce had the team playing quality, attractive football. To a younger generation of Town fans this remains the best football produced by a Town team in their lifetime. A 7-1 home win against Crystal Palace and a 3-1 victory away at Nottingham Forest particularly stick in the memory. A run of 9 wins in 10 games in the run up to Christmas saw Town go top of the table and promotion to the Premier League looked a genuine possibility at the turn of the year. The fact that Town were playing so well and challenging for promotion, however, only served to increase the disappointment when Town missed out on the play-offs and highlight just how spectacular Town’s fall from grace would be over the next 18 months.

A torrid start to 2000 which saw Town win just 2 of the first 12 games of the calendar year, and the now infamous sale of star striker Marcus Stewart to promotion rivals Ipswich, saw Bruce’s popularity plummet. However, it was Bruce’s decision to accept the BBC’s offer to cover Manchester United’s ill-fated World Club Cup campaign that particularly rankled Town fans. The decision to abandon a team struggling for form, just at the time when strong management was most needed, remains a baffling and frankly unacceptable decision on Bruce’s part. Though Town continued to occupy a top-six spot until the final day of the season, the free-flowing, attractive football never really returned after Bruce left for Brazil. In many ways it was this trip to Brazil that marked the beginning of the end of Bruce’s reign.

By the start of the 2000-01 season, the optimism and confidence of the previous season had all but evaporated. Despite a 3-2 win away at Sheffield Wednesday it was all too apparent that Bruce was no longer the right man for the job. To make matters worse, the disastrous run of form at the start of the season ultimately led to Town’s relegation and, also, eventual administration and near liquidation. To be fair to Bruce, it cannot be said that he was wholly responsible for Town’s demise. He maintains to this day that Marcus Stewart was sold from underneath him and that various promises made to him by owner Barry Rubery were either broken or unfulfilled. Rubery, for his part, was clearly out of his depth when it came to running a football club. In the first season with Bruce at the helm, Rubery provided serious investment without stopping to think of what the consequences would be if Town failed to achieve promotion. When it finally hit home that Town would miss out on promotion, and Rubery realised his mistake, it was too late. The signings in the 2000-01 pre-season were distinctly underwhelming as Rubery refused to give the same level of backing as the previous year. Following Bruce’s sacking, Rubery hit out at his former manager in the programme notes before a home clash against Norwich. In his notes, Rubery said he had mistakenly believed that “a great footballer would make a great football manager”, and went on to accuse Bruce of “wasting” £3million on players, saying the cash would have been spent better “by a more experienced manager without an ego to feed.”

It is fair to say that Rubery was naïve – dangerously so – to the consequences his financial backing would have on the club. But it is also true that Bruce could have spent the significant funds available to him more wisely. That is to say that it is not Bruce’s fault that he spent the funds – if the owner makes funds available then you are well within your rights to spend them – but Bruce can be blamed for ultimately spending the funds on players who were not good enough. The most notable example of this was the signing of George Donis. Despite only playing 20 games for the club, Donis would eventually cost Town nearly £1 million in various fees and wages before his contract was terminated by mutual consent so he could return to his native Greece. Bruce’s legacy in the transfer market would ultimately be to saddle Town with a series of overpaid and injury prone players. Ken Monkou, Clyde Wjinhard and Chris Hay all made less than 10 starts for Town the year they were relegated and it is for signing expensive flops, like Donis, rather than the likes of Gorre, Lucketti and Irons, that Bruce is most remembered.

Bruce’s reign was undoubtedly one of unfulfilled potential and ‘what ifs.’ What if, for instance, Town had completed the signing of John Terry for £750,000 and what if Marcus Stewart had not been sold to Ipswich? Though I am convinced Town would have reached the play-offs had Stewart remained at the club, football simply does not allow for ‘what ifs’ and the cold fact remains that Town, under Bruce’s stewardship, blew a glorious chance to reach at least the play-offs in the 1999-2000 season. Though the team he assembled remains the best that a number of Town fans have ever seen, and provided Town with their joint highest final league position since the early 1970’s, it could – and probably should – have achieved so much more. Had Bruce been more savvy in the transfer market, and had he not abandoned the club when the team was struggling just after Christmas, then he could have built something special at Huddersfield. As it was, Bruce is remembered for turning his back on the club when the going got tough and the money dried up. It is this unfulfilled potential that pains Town fans to this day. Town could easily have begun the 2000-01 season in the Premier League yet in reality they were to begin a season of heartbreak, disappointment and relegation. By the time he was sacked, Bruce had run out of ideas and you would barely believe the team that appeared at Grimsby, in Bruce’s final game, belonged to the same manager as the one who had led Town to the Division 1 summit the previous season.

Though Bruce has not yet managed a side at the John Smiths Stadium since his departure, the reception his son Alex got whilst on loan at Sheffield Wednesday was proof of just how much anger is still felt towards Bruce among Town fans. Whilst on loan at Sheffield Wednesday in 2005, Bruce junior had his every touch booed and was subject to all sorts of abuse from the crowd before he eventually snapped and retaliated with a two-footed tackle on then Town player Adnan Ahmed, which resulted in a straight red card. Rightly or wrongly, Bruce will forever be associated with the capitulation of the 1999-2000 season and the dark days of relegation, administration, and near liquidation that followed. For these reasons, although Bruce has proved himself a relatively successful manager at other clubs, he will undoubtedly receive a hostile reception from the majority of Town fans when he walks out of the tunnel at the John Smiths Stadium on Saturday.

For more HTFC based ramblings follow me on twitter: (JThorn26)

Leeds United: An Open Letter to GFH Capital 2

To whom it may concern,

You may remember me from my last letter, where I said you were doing alright, but you could be doing a lot better. You (you being GFH Capital or whichever PR company you’ve hired this week) have done some other things since, and they’ve mainly been alright, with a handful less than alright, and a couple that are better than alright. A summation of your time in charge of Leeds in one word: alright.

On that note, let me put forward what I think you should do next: sell the club. No ifs, no buts, no selling tiny cuts. Today’s sale of 10% to IIB is hopefully not the beginning of a continual sale of tiny percentages to a great swathe of purchasers, because it will create a club that, in the future, grinds to a halt as people without the knowledge play at being football club owners. As much as it seems a way to bring funds in, it will ultimately result in a club being run in a shambolic fashion. Too many cooks and all that.

On the other hand, everyone and their mother seems to be aware of this supposed takeover by Parkin and Pearson, with Phil Hay noting that that is seemingly not off the table after today’s announcement. Rather than selling segments off piecemeal, just give the whole megazord to the adults who have kindly come over to the kid’s table and put down the food you’ve been waiting for. It’ll save a lot of problems later.

The reality is that you’ve got a lot of good ideas, and these ideas are all an improvement on what went on during the previous regime. No one in their right mind would call for a return to the days of yore, where a tyrannical dictator sat on the throne, refusing to speak to anybody who couldn’t produce 47 individual charters that decreed them worthy of his presence. The reality is, however, that ideas are not money. Hell, I’d love ideas to be money, who wouldn’t? But they aren’t, and having the best intentions in the world doesn’t mean you can carry them out. We’d rather, as a group of fans, not see more mystery men buy pieces of the club in order to fund your ideas – by all accounts there are people out there who have both ideas and money. By all accounts they’ve been swimming around the good ship Leeds United for years, and it’s time to let them come aboard.

A few months back, shortly after I wrote the first letter to you lot, I sat with El-Hadji Diouf for about half an hour, and he said something very clever that I’ve been wanting to share for a while. He said that when he came, he could hear people singing “you Chelsea bastard, get out of our club”. Diouf was under no doubts about what the future of Leeds United needed. “For eight years, Leeds fans have been waiting for a Messiah”. I have thought about what he said often, and agree wholeheartedly that it is true. This Messiah is not necessarily a sheik or a billionaire, but merely one with the club at heart and the power to take us back where we belong. History is littered with false prophets GFH, and we’re on the cusp of a celebration of a man who claimed to be a messiah, whichever way you fall on your belief in that. You are not the coming of the Messiah we have waited years for, it is time to take the opportunity to leave.

Thanks,

Amitai Winehouse

 

P.S. Sell the club.

Follow Amitai Winehouse on Twitter (@awinehouse1).