Paolo Di Canio; forever a man attracting attention as a player and that hasn't stopped as a manager, far from it. The maverick Italian has hardly had an average 18 months at Swindon.
May 20th 2011, Swindon's conformation of Paolo Di Canio was met with controversy. A major club sponsor withdrew their funding due to his rumoured fascist political beliefs. This was only the beginning of the story.
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. This result was followed by back-to-back away defeats to Dagenham & Redbridge and Cheltenham before a home clash against fierce rivals Oxford United put Di Canio in the spotlight again.
The day before the game, Di Canio got Oxford riled by saying in a press conference 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, Oxford won 1-2 with Constable scoring both for the Yellows. 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 going down - Di Canio; one of the few men who can make fans go home smiling after losing a derby.
This gesture was repeated in the 2-3 loss to Aston Villa in the Capital One Cup this season. Swindon had better luck in a different derby three days later, a 1-0 win against Bristol City in the Carling Cup, the first of many teams in higher a league 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. At full time Leon Clarke had a spat with Fabrizio Piccaretta claiming he had been overworked in training. Paolo tried to calm him down which didn’t work and they had an altercation in the tunnel and had to be separated. Clarke never featured for Swindon again.
On the 14th October, Paolo Di Canio completed the transfer 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 2-0 win over Accrington, Swindon’s first clean sheet in three games and he wouldn’t concede a goal until the 8th November in his sixth game.
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!”
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 in the 22nd minute, Swindon hit back with an Alan Connell goal in the 67th before Oliver Risser was sent off for Swindon 10 minutes later.
With 10 men, Swindon pushed on and in the third minute of injury time, Alan McCormack lashed 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.
Following that result, Swindon won 10 league games in a row and 12 out of 14 in all competitions (a loss to Leicester in the 4th round of the FA Cup and an away 1-1 draw to Barnet in the JPT the winless games).
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.
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.
On the 14th April 2012, Swindon all but confirmed their promotion to League 1 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 to say goodbye then flew back home two days later, showing his unbelievable commitment to the club. Swindon were crowned champions with a 5-0 win over Port Vale on the with League 2 player of the year Matt Ritchie opening the scoring.
The next season again wasn’t your average, the focal point of the summer was Di Canio falling out with club captain and fan-favourite Paul Caddis criticising his work rate in training. Caddis left for Birmingham in a swap loan deal with Adam Rooney.
Swindon started this season with a 3-0 demolishing of Championship side Brighton in the Capital One Cup. Two league wins in three followed before an incredible 4-3 win against Stoke in the Capital One Cup. Swindon would go onto beat Burnley 3-1 in the next round and then crash out to Villa 3-2 in October.
A game to live long in the memory will be Swindon’s 4-1 loss against Preston. Swindon were 2-0 down inside 10 minutes and Di Canio wasn’t happy substituting goalkeeper Foderingham in the 21st minute, much to the young ‘keeper’s frustration.
Foderingham reacted by kicking a bottle in anger and arguing with PDC before storming down the tunnel. Paolo demanded an apology from Foderingham and if he didn’t get one, Foderingham would be sold - he apologised.
The financial implications of Di Canio’s heavy activity in the transfer market became apparent when Swindon were placed under a transfer embargo for breaking the limit on wages and transfer fees.
Jeremy Wray left as chairman and was replaced by Sir William Patey. The embargo was lifted on 6th November however on the 3rd December Sir Patey says that there would be no money for Paolo to spend in January.
Paolo responds in his usual eccentric fashion by claiming he will use £30,000 of his own money to keep loan signings Danny Hollands and Chris Martin. Moving onto January and on the 13th majority shareholder Andrew Black confirms he’s trying to sell the club with administration a possibility and Sir Patey says he will quit when the takeover takes place.
On the 30th, Jed McCrory of Banbury United agrees to take control of Town and star player Matt Ritchie is 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 led to Di Canio releasing a statement saying he’s considering his future at Swindon.
The broken promises from the board proved too much, with Di Canio resigning from his position with immediate effect.
What is certain is that after his time with Swindon, many big clubs will be fighting for his signature. Reading has been touted as a potential destination for Di Canio after the sacking of Brian McDermott.
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