Football Psychology: Paolo Di Canio – Sacked!

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Football PsychologyIt’s just after the final whistle at The Hawthorns. Sunderland have suffered a defeat at the hands of West Bromwich Albion. And manager Paolo Di Canio is on the pitch.

He stands in front of the away end, offering an array of hand gestures. It turns out that he is fielding the fans wrath and anger. Which is a laudable position for a leader to take. But it looks strange and altogether out of place. So it’s no surprise that Di Canio is sacked twenty-four hours later, with Sunderland bottom of the Premier League.

Stories of senior players telling him plainly that they weren’t liking his outspoken and hyper-critical management style, seemed to be the trigger for his Sunday evening sacking.

With his ‘my way or the highway’ approach to man-management, it’s unlikely that many Premier League teams would be prepared to take a chance on Canio anytime soon. It may well be, that coaxing the best out of lower league players, willing to do anything to further their careers, is the right fit for the Italian.

But his sacking, highlights the challenges Italian managers face in imposing their discipline based methodologies in England. Fabio Capello’s time as England manager was characterised by the spartan, monastic regime he established in the South Africa World Cup camp.

Roberto Mancini’s reign at Manchester City was known for his regular public fall-outs and criticisms of players, who failed to match his persoanal standards. Whilst he didn’t lose the dressing-room, Mancini never appeared to have a united group behind him.

During his time as Ireland manager, Giovanni Trapatonni often caused disaffected players to take to the press to criticise his poor man-management skills.

The Italian style of management appears to be founded on high levels of discipline and dedication to fitness and organisation, but pays less attention to individual needs and development. Thus leading to the accusation of poor man-management that creates disaffected players and dressing-rooms.

That approach may work in Serie A but in England, players need a different, more flexible approach. Di Canio’s mistake was not in wanting to create a high intensity, hard work culture. But in failing to recognise that good management is about recognizing that sometimes you need more than one way to coax the best out of a group of players.

A lot of great players who go into management, hold an expectation that all players have the dedication to their craft that they had. Therefore they fail to understand those who don’t. Players are thus cast aside, rather than developed.

The challenge for Paolo Di Canio comes in how he reflects upon his dismissal. He may simply blame weak-willed players who didn’t have the stomach for the fight. But if he is wise, he will contemplate upon his confrontational management style, and ask himself if he really has the full set of leadership skills required of great managers.