There were very few English football fans who did not get caught up in the charisma that the former Lazio hero displayed during his time with both West Ham and Sheffield Wednesday. His on field demeanour was similar to another Italian who currently dominates the back pages, yet Paolo did it with far more charm. A self-proclaimed fascist who once pushed a referee violently, or should I say comically, to the ground; Di Canio managed to get away with all of this and win himself a place in the heart of English football fans. Almost the prodigal son that Italy didn't want us to have. It may come as a surprise to you that after less successful spell at Charlton, Di Canio returned to his beloved Lazio until 2006 when his contract was not renewed due to his close relationship with the Lazio ultras. He had made one Nazi salute too many it seems. A hero for all in East London and Rome and many further afield, Di Canio's controversy did not seem to affect his popularity. And, of course, it helps when you score potentially the greatest goal scored in England for decades.
Now the prodigal son has returned. He has swapped his boots for an Italian suit and a red and white scarf. It may have been 7 years since he returned to Italy, but the media circus has not forgotten. Despite returning to England to manage lowly Swindon Town in League 2, this has not stopped the Italian surely being the most interviewed manager on both national radio and satellite sports channels. If Manishe, Leroy and Steve haven't sent you to sleep by the time the League 2 matches are on the Football League Show on Saturday nights you will notice that Swindon seem to get that little bit more coverage. Call me a cynic but I am not convinced that this is purely down to top of the league standing and far more likely to be due to the opportunity to get a few more words from the man. Last night Swindon looked to win League 2, a hell of an achievement for Di Canio in his first season of management. He attended last night's game despite the recent passing of his mother. Clearly the fire in his belly has not been extinguished. He is being heavily linked to the West Ham job should Big Sam not get the Hammers up and would be an immensely popular choice at the Boleyn Ground whilst there would be many distraught Swindon fans in Wiltshire. So on first glance it looks like Paolo's first foray into management has gone without a glitch and we can look forward to seeing his meteoric rise up the league. Yet I am not so sure and think that the Paolo love-in may be set for an abrupt ending.
On further inspection Swindon's season has been absolutely extraordinary. He has brought in a staggering 30 players since arriving at the club, both permanently and on loan. Many of these players have already left the County Ground. His transfer policy when first arriving at the club was somewhat different to other more established lower league managers. He looked further afield, signing players such as Oliver Risser and Lukas Magera from Finnish side KuPS and Romanian FC Politehnica Timisoara respectively. This transfer policy was mainly unsuccessful with the new players not playing at the same level as those Di Canio had inherited such as Matt Richie and Paul Caddis. A humiliating defeat at home to Oxford United followed, the first home loss to their arch-rivals in decades. There was a much publicised, and televised, public spat with striker Leon Clarke and many many touchline bans. The British press applauded this 'passion' yet were Swindon winning in spite of Di Canio's antics as opposed to being inspired by it? He went on to deliver a 'promise' to Swindon fans that he would be dancing on the Kassam Stadium pitch after beating Oxford in March. He was dancing on the pitch at the end of the game, but curiously it was after a 2-0 loss. Back in September he had told BBC Wilts that Oxford striker James Constable was a Swindon fan and was desperate to join him at the County Ground. Constable scored both goals in a 2-1 Oxford victory, kissing the Oxford badge on the pitch which Di Canio insisted he was so keen to make his home. Constable turned down a move in January. My point here is that Di Canio's words in the press both seemed to put pressure on his players whilst also lending inspiration to the opposition. He has often criticised his own players after simple victories whilst responding to losses by maintaining that his team is better than everyone else. Their league position would support this view, yet it is a very dangerous game to play.
Di Canio, of course, deserves huge credit for getting Swindon straight back up this season. I am not denying this, merely pointing out a couple of worrying managerial traits that I would not be looking for as an employer. Swindon's funding come from a the founders of an extremely well-known betting exchange and their budget is alongside Crawley as comfortably the highest in the league. Anything but promotion would have been seen as failure. He has improved his transfer policy bringing in the superb, and proven, Paul Benson and young keeper Wes Foderingham. Yet there is something similar to his style to that of Roy Keane; a scatter-gun transfer approach alongside a controversial media persona. There is no doubt that he has brought Swindon success, as Keane initially did at Sunderland, but it would not surprise me at all if he were to find the next couple of seasons, whether at the Country Ground, Upton Park or elsewhere, a bit tougher. And then Di Canio's outbursts will upset others than just his managerial colleagues. The relationship with the Italian may slight sour, but for the moment he deserves the praise and I am sure you will be able to catch an interview with when they inevitably do take the League 2 crown.