Tinkering or Tactical Di Canio?

With another squad of options and talents, Adam Johnson tries to unravel the mind of Paolo Di Canio to see why and how he keeps his squad of talent a happy one…

It’s well documented that Paolo Di Canio likes shopping. He’s said it and we’ve seen the evidence ourselves, whether that be a cracking deal through a tribunal or an agent that has done well out of the club.

However, I’m not here to discuss Di Canio’s transfer policy as that’s been documented about more than the use of handshakes in football. My recent thought therefore has been this, how do you use and balance all this talent?

Bedwell, Devera, Flint, Archibald-Henville, Bessone, L.Rooney, Bostock, Coke, De Vita, Benson, A.Rooney. That is a second eleven you could make up out of the players who haven’t been regular features in recent weeks. Definitely not the worst side I’ve seen at Swindon.

I’m not here to moan that Paolo has got X wrong about Y and that Z should be starting. I’m just curious how he manages this talent in one squad when I struggle on Football Manager. Players usually demand playing time and Paolo seems to have a group of understanding that no one is carried in the team whether you’re playing or not.

Every move that goes through Paolo’s head doesn’t go without thought. To show how much so, here’s what Di Canio said to The Daily Mail: ‘I’ll be in Waitrose shopping for pasta and tomatoes and my mind is thinking about the next day’s session. People think I can’t find the right food because I stand there staring, thinking about football.’’

It would be silly to think the man doesn’t think through every decision. He demands perfection and that isn’t just out of his players, but also himself. He is meticulous, thoughtful, ruthless and a little bit energetic at times, once or twice a season at most.

Every single starting eleven is made with thought of how to best exploit an oppositions weakness as well as playing to our strengths. He’s stated: ‘‘I work every hour, study every opposition player to give my team the right details to win.’’ And I think that sums up what we are seeing with the squad Di Canio has assembled.

He has the backing of the board financially but he doesn’t want a squad of backups, he wants options and quality to suit different scenarios. Simon Ferry said before the Burnley cup game that: “I want to be playing every week, but the manager changes his team for different opposition so you need to accept it, and when you do get your chance you have to show the manager you should be playing,”

However, all though this is the case, the main bulk of changes came after the 4-1 loss to Preston and the subsequent defeats that followed.

In the first six games, Di Canio only made four changes to the first eleven that lined up versus Brighton in the Capital Cup and then the Preston debacle came along. Since that evil Sunday Paolo has been drawn back to the whiteboard, not because of tactics but to see who needs to be wiped off and who to write in their place.

After that defeat, Di Canio made a combined 20 changes over the next four games, mostly the same players in a different line up after his original eleven was bulldozed into the ground at Deepdale.

We then had the same line up versus Portsmouth and Bournemouth which worked very well, except for a frantic 10 minutes at Fratton Park but then we’ve had changes in the last two games which is due to the opposition and situation at hand. Against Burnley we only made two changes with Archibald Henville and Benson coming in for Ward and Collins but both they have their reasons of game time and experience.

Then Paolo learnt his lesson from Preston with six changes versus Shrewsbury. He’s probably wary of another game Tuesday night but also the effects of a big cup win. After the defeat to Preston, following the win at Stoke, Paolo himself said the players were tired mentality. He changes the line up knowing the players coming in are fresh physically and mentality as they have an opportunity to claim a place.

He mixes the team to not only get the best out of the eleven selected but also for their mind set. Everyone has to be on their toes as Paolo’s rallying call to come to war could be issued at any moment. Paolo is so complex that I could be getting this wrong as his thinking is so in depth we mere humans can’t fathom it.

He installs the mentality of training every day, working hard, playing for your place and has given nearly everyone a chance at some point. If you don’t take your chance, or slip for a moment, he will be ruthless and take you off knowing there are others to come in. It’s competitive, but gets the best out of everyone.

All the time he speaks about attitude, character and commitment along with that line of ‘follow me and you’ll be a winner’. He wants talent too but if one of our best players isn’t showing the personal traits, he’ll bring them off. This seems to be a message the squad understands and through that he’s installed this military like attitude which knows who’s in charge and who to trust.

I’m not a tactics guru but this depth gives Di Canio opportunity to create numerous sides. He can play several tactics for all opposition and knows he has the players at his disposal to do it. He’s not rigid, he’s creative. So, I’d expect to see some more of the recent recruitments, such as Coke and Bostock to feature in the coming weeks.

Firstly because they’re players who I expect came to Swindon with a thought of playing in the starting eleven as I doubt we were the only team in for them but secondly because of Paolo’s way of tactical thinking. He plans for all opponents and, although a pure guess, we may see squad rotation depending on the opposition.

If we are playing a tough away game, we could play a 4-4-1-1 and If we wanted to play an extra man in central midfield in a 4-3-3 we have the players available in Miller, Navarro, Ferry and Coke. Those are just examples to show he has assembled backup for all situations and that’s the point.

Another big factor is the finances available and these are a massive help in League One. He still has to keep the players happy and committed though which he does well through reward and praise when necessary. If they’re not playing his message is still the same, follow me and you will be a winner. So far, it’s hard to disagree.

Basically, the simple way to phrase it is that Paolo knows what he’s doing and to try and guess his methods is only going to set you up to fail. He’s always one step ahead in a situation. I’m not sure how he does it and the day we find out how, he’ll already know and be that extra step ahead.


  • Question with Bostock always is where to play him, I’m sure he expected to be starting but after his brief and forgettable cameo in the JPT Final he didn’t feature till the very end of last season post booze gate. Luckily I didn’t go to Preston so don’t know impact there but v Oxford he played wide midfield when he came on and did ok without having massive impact. At the end of last season he was kind of a more withdrawn striker with something of a free role? I’m surprised he’s not featured more on the bench as you would have thought he was the ideal man to come on when system needed changing around. I’m sure Bostock expected more game time and after his patience last time wonder if he is a frustrated not to be involved more?


  • That’s the main issue with Bostock. Great player but he doesn’t fit in our system. He played on the wing v Preston and Oxford and injected much needed energy and more obviously talent into the game. He is definitely good enough to be in our team but you can’t do a system to fit one player. He is a great option if Di Canio wants to change the system but it doesn’t look like that’ll happen much. Shows you how Di Canio has added great depth to our team.


  • Pingback: Paolo Di Canio’s Time at STFC: Essential Reading for Sunderland Fans – The Washbag

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