Paolo Di Canio was fired by Sunderland for 'systematic destruction' of his players

After team complained of damaged self-esteem, club felt compelled to terminate ‘irrational’ reign of fear

Paolo Di Canio’s 175-day reign of fear at Sunderland was ended because of the “systematic destruction of the players’ self-esteem and self-worth” The Independent can reveal.

Di Canio clashed with his players in the dressing room at The Hawthorns after Saturday’s 3-0 defeat at West Bromwich Albion. There then followed a heated row between the manager and his squad on Sunday at Sunderland’s training ground, the Academy of Light, which led to his departure.

Di Canio’s relationship with the first-team players at Sunderland had deteriorated to such an extent that a source inside the club said: “It got to a point where they could not take any more. It became untenable.

“He was irrational at the end in his personal attacks on the players. There is relief more than anything that he has gone.”

Di Canio clashed with both Emanuele Giaccherini, the club’s marquee signing during the summer transfer window, and the deposed captain Lee Cattermole following the defeat at West Bromwich that proved the catalyst for change.

There followed further rebellion and another row between Di Canio and his players on Sunday that led to a delegation meeting Margaret Byrne, the club’s chief executive, to air their concern over the confrontational style of management.

Ellis Short, the Sunderland owner, then sacked his second manager in six months via a telephone call. Di Canio cleared out his desk on Sunday night but the position of Roberto De Fanti, whose office is across the hall from the manager’s at the Academy of Light, is said to be safe.

Kevin Ball, a former Sunderland captain and development coach at the club, has been put in charge for tonight’s Capital One Cup tie with Peterborough and Sunday’s crucial Premier League game against Liverpool at the Stadium of Light.

In that time, the Sunderland board will draw up a shortlist of candidates to try to rescue them from a disastrous start to the season in which they have picked up just one point from their opening five games. After the visit of Liverpool on Sunday, they face Manchester United at home and Swansea City away before hosting local rivals Newcastle United. That daunting fixture list will await a new manager, and there will be an expectation that Sunderland turn to someone with Premier League experience after the volatility of a rookie who had never coached top-flight players.

Di Canio was a hugely controversial appointment in March, when he succeeded the sacked Martin O’Neill, but he helped guide the club to safety. However, the confrontational style of the Italian led to repeated clashes with players, with the Professional Footballers’ Association stepping in after he dished out a series of fines.

Di Canio said Phil Bardsley would never play for the club again after the defender was photographed in a casino surrounded by £50 notes and he was banished from the club after a tweet following a defeat against Fulham.

Di Canio also stripped Cattermole of the club captaincy following a row and there was a warning from the England winger Adam Johnson last week about the constant public criticism from Di Canio when he said it “could kill players’ confidence”.

Ball, who has acted as caretaker at Sunderland before, took training on Monday and said: “The priority was just to meet the players, have a training session. Because of the events of the last day there’s not a great deal of stuff you could have put into their minds ready for [tonight]. Before training it was never mentioned because their heads would have been spinning. I’ve been a coach for 10 years so it is a natural progression to be able to take charge of a team. I am quite comfortable with it.”

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