Paolo Di Canio, forever a man attracting media attention as a player and that hasn’t stopped as a manager, far from it, as the maverick Italian did not have an average 18 months at Swindon. Benjamin Wills looks back at some of the key moments and matches during his reign.
It was May 20th 2011 and Swindon confirmed Paolo as manager, like any standard League Two appointment. The club and manager trended on Twitter worldwide for a few minites, a major club sponsor withdrew their funding due to ‘the manager’s fascist politics’ and Paolo claimed Swindon will sign Lionel Messi in the Summer transfer window, you’ve seen nothing yet…
Pre-season ended and Di Canio had signed 15 new players from all corners of the world including Algeria (Mehdi Kerrouche), Namibia (Oliver Risser), a Czech Republic international (Lukas Magera) and four Italians – even a few English players including one Leon Clarke but more on him in a moment. Oh, but there was no arrival of an Argentinian called Lionel.
Swindon kicked off their season with an emphatic 3-0 win over Crewe and went top; easy this management lark isn’t it? Well, maybe not. With Di Canio later admitting he thought this mangerial business was ‘a bit easy’, the result was followed by back-to-back away defeats to Dagenham & Redbridge and Cheltenham, before a home clash against fierce rivals Oxford and Di Canio in the spotlight again.
The day before the game, Di Canio got Oxford riled by saying that ‘star striker’ James Constable is a Swindon fan – ‘He’s a big Swindon fan through and through – the Oxford fans know it.’ The mind games didn’t pay off though with Oxford winning 1-2 with Constable scoring both for the Yellows. An own goal by Paolo on this one. He was quick to cheer his fans up though, on the final whistle he made a gesture that has gone down in Swindon folklore. A point to the sky to suggest Swindon will go up, and a point to the floor suggesting Oxford were staying down, Di Canio one of the few men who can make fans go home smiling after losing a derby. In the end he proved to be right…
Swindon had better luck in a different derby three days later, a 0-1 win vs. Bristol City in the Carling Cup, the first of many teams in higher leagues Swindon would beat under ‘PDC’. The league form was still to be desired though, a fourth loss in a row came in a 2-1 away match vs. Shrewsbury.
Then a return to the Carling Cup, Southampton at home and another loss, 1-3 this time. If only that was the worst piece of news to come out of that night. At full time Leon Clarke had a spat with Fabrizio Piccaretta claiming he had been overworked in training (it’s tough being a footballer). Paolo tried to calm him down which didn’t work and they had a fight in the tunnel and had to be separated. Surprisingly Clarke never featured for Swindon again.
Swindon won their next 2 games before travelling to Crawley but after Steve Evans’ comments calling the club a ‘circus’ under Di Canio there was more than 3 points at stake for Swindon, well at full time it was Evans who looked like a clown as Swindon won 0-3.
On the 14th October, Paolo Di Canio completed his most important transfer as a manager so far in the shape of unknown Goalkeeper Wes Foderingham on loan from Crystal Palace. He’d never played for the Selhurst Park outfit but had for Conference South sides Bromley and Histon. His debut came in a 0-2 win over Accrington, Swindon’s first clean sheet in three and he wouldn’t concede a goal for six games. Wes didn’t hide his joy at joining Swindon, tweeting ‘All done, officially signed for Swindon Town FC on loan until January… Di Canio is ledge!’
Paolo’s next memorable moment would come in the FA Cup 1st round match against Huddersfield, a team on a 42 match unbeaten run. With no Jordan Rhodes in the away squad – due to a Scotland call up – Huddersfield struggled and got thrashed 4-1, Di Canio recently called this game his favourite and it’s understandable why given the manner of the comeback.
The acquisition of Foderingham was certainly a turning point in Swindon’s season but not as much as the New Year’s Eve match against Northampton. After going 1-0 down, Swindon hit back with an Alan Connell equaliser before Oliver Risser was sent off. With ten men, Swindon pushed on and the 3rd minute of injury time, Alan McCormack picked up the ball just inside the Northampton half, ran with it a bit, played a one-two with Rafa De Vita before lashing the ball into the goal. Cue Swindon delirium, all the players celebrating with the away fans and even Paolo himself joining in and jumping on McCormack to show his gratitude with a Mourinho-esqe run. Following that result, Swindon won ten League Two games in a row and 12 from 14 in all competitions.
One of those games in that incredible run was the 2-1 giant killing of Premier League side Wigan in the FA Cup. Swindon completely outplayed Wigan with the away side only having one shot on target, a rebounded penalty which they scored. Paolo dedicated the win to his father who died in October with a cry of ‘Grazie Papa’ at the final whistle. Di Canio then suggested that a plaque should be made in honour of this historic victory – no sign of this yet. Also in this run Swindon booked themselves a trip to Wembley with a 2-1 aggregate win over Barnet in the JPT South final. It was a forgettable occasion, Chesterfield won 2-0 and Swindon never really looked like winning.
Di Canio has fallen foul of the officials a few times, none more so than against Macclesfield in January. Swindon won 1-0 but one incident where Matt Hamshaw pushed Aden Flint angered Paolo. He argued with the officials and was sent to the stands. In his post-match press conference Di Canio claimed ‘you can send me off every week, we will win this league anyway’ which Swindon did.
In April, Swindon all but confirmed their promotion to League One with a 1-0 win over Plymouth, Di Canio didn’t come back onto the pitch for his annual post-match scarf raising as his Mother had died during the week. He flew out to Italy the day before she died, say goodbye to his Mum then flew back home 2 days later, showing his unbelievable commitment to the club. Swindon were crowned champions with a 5-0 win over Port Vale with League Two player of the year Ritchie opening the scoring.
Paolo’s second preseason again wasn’t your average. The focal point of the summer was Di Canio’s falling out with club captain and fan favourite Paul Caddis, criticising his work rate in training, resulting in the Scot joining Birmingham in a swap loan deal with Adam Rooney. Ever busy in the transfer market, the Italian signed a further eleven players and selling another 12 including top scorer Alan Connell to Bradford, with a significant number of his original signings no longer wearing the red and white.
Swindon started this season well with a 3-0 demolishing of Championship side Brighton in the League Cup. Two league wins in three followed before an incredible 3-4 win at Stoke City in the Cup. Swindon would go onto beat Burnley 3-1 in the next round and then crash out to Aston Villa 2-3 in October. Nonetheless, Paolo’s reign was providing some of the finest cup runs for many years.
Back in the league and Town were having an indifferent start, with a match at Preston living long in the memory. Swindon lost 4-1 after going down 2-0 inside 10 minutes, Di Canio wasn’t happy and substituted Goalkeeper Foderingham after 21 minutes, much to the young ‘keeper’s frustration; kicking a bottle in frustration and arguing with PDC before storming down the tunnel. Paolo demanded an apology from Wes and if he didn’t get one, Foderingham would be sold. Wes apologised and Paolo had again asserted his authority.
In late December, Swindon faced surprise promotion fodder Tranmere at the County Ground but only one team looked like a side in form, Swindon ran out 5-0 winners. The following week at home to penniless Portsmouth Swindon won 5-0 again, the following game against Carlisle wasn’t 5-0 however, Swindon could only get a 4-0 win in that one.
Swindon’s finances have made headlines a lot this season. In October, Swindon were placed under a transfer embargo for breaking the limit on wages and transfer fees. Days later Jeremy Wray left as chairman and was replaced by Sir William Patey. While the embargo was lifted a month later and new loan backups arrived, it soon transpired there would be no money for Paolo to spend in January. Paolo responded in his usual eccentric fashion by claiming he will use £30,000 of his own money to keep loanees Danny Hollands and Chris Martin, but never put his money where he mouth is…
With news that majority shareholder Andrew Black confirmed his intentions to sell the club and administration ‘a possibility’, despite a takeover being provisionally agreed, Matt Ritchie was sold to promotion rivals Bournemouth for £500,000 ‘behind Di Canio’s back’. This, along with the blocking of three deadline day deals by the Football League lead to Di Canio releasing a statement saying he “doesn’t know how I can continue to work in this environment” and that he was considering his future at Swindon.
Paolo’s Swindon tenure ended over the space of three weeks. We all thought his final game could have been at Crawley, but it wasn’t. Then he remained in the dugout against Colchester and Hartlepool and we thought it could all be ‘resolved’. Support remained strong for the Italian as on the 10 minute mark, the County Ground arose with Paolo Di Canio chants, banners and scarves waving, lighting up the stadium.
With Paolo’s departure, Swindon will be looking for a new manager who can guide them to the Championship; whoever Paolo ends up at next you can guarantee they will have some eventful moments under the helm of the Italian. It’s never boring when Paolo is about.