After Paolo Di Canio fiasco, what now for once proud Sunderland?


At 8.30am on 13 July, the colliery bands of Durham began their march towards the city's market place. The miners' banners went with them, signposts to the past, a visible display of pride in the region's history. From there followed a slow march towards the County Hotel on Old Elvet. The bands played, the march went on to the racecourse, and the banners were strapped to the surrounding fences.

Three months earlier, Dave Hopper, the general secretary of the Durham Miners' Association, had written to Sunderland Football Club to demand the return of the Wearmouth Miners' banner.At that point the penny should have dropped.

The request for that banner which so impressively adorned a wall on a stairway at the Stadium of Light came in protest against the alleged facist sympathies of the man the club had just appointed manager, Paolo Di Canio. But instead of a major rethink, Sunderland's power-brokers drove faster towards the precipice.

They had the political might of board member David Miliband, then MP for South Shields and one time Foreign Secretary, to alleviate the impending crisis. There was no U-turn amid the alienation and chaos that engulfed Wearside following Di Canio's arrival in March.

Sunderland, led by the billionaire Ellis Short, refused to listen. Then Miliband resigned because of Di Canio's alleged allegiance to fascism. There was even an offer of resignation from Di Canio himself as the most vicious storm anyone associated with the club could remember whipped around the Academy of Light. It was turned down.

Now Di Canio has gone the club must find a way to stop the whirr of the Stadium of Light revolving door that spits out managers and players with alarming regularity. It seems unlikely to happen soon.

Sunderland have an unproven director of football in Roberto De Fanti. He is eager to impress, but the first team have been weakened since he took over transfer business in the summer. Stéphane Sessègnon and Simon Mignolet, the club's two best players last season, were sold.

Emanuele Giaccherini and Jozy Altidore were the most high-profile of the 14 players who arrived in the summer. Giaccherini carries around an English phrasebook. That offers hope, but this season will be nothing but a struggle from here on in. Rush into a decision and the consequences can be felt for years to come. Ask Wolves.

Di Canio could not build a relationship with his players. It is that simple. He destroyed bridges instead of building them. Gustavo Poyet's agent has held talks with Sunderland officials for his client to replace Di Canio. He remains the favourite for a club that wants a young tracksuited manager who will work with the players on the training ground.

Vicente, the Spanish international who worked with Poyet at Brighton, called him selfish and egocentric. It has to be hoped that lessons have been learned from the 175-day reign of Di Canio, but you can never be certain. Sunderland are doing due diligence on possible appointments. The result of that should be interesting.

The club needs to find itself as much as a new manager. There was a timely reminder from Kevin Ball, the caretaker manager who joined the club in 1990 as a player, of what a football club means to its community. Ball has been at the club for almost half his life. He said the first six weeks were hard to settle, but then he got what the club meant. His family have been brought up in the region. It is his home.

"Each player should be given a book which says 'this is Sunderland Football Club'. This is our club. These are our supporters. It's a club with hard-working supporters who just want you to understand what the club is about. Be prepared to understand what it's like for those people who come to watch you play." It feels like a strikingly pertinent point.