Roberto Di Matteo Favourite to Replace Paolo Di Canio After Sunderland Bust-Up

Ben Blackmore@@Blackmore_BRFeatured ColumnistSeptember 23, 2013

TURIN, ITALY - NOVEMBER 20:  Head coach Roberto Di Matteo of Chelsea FC during the UEFA Champions League Group E match between Juventus and Chelsea FC at Juventus Arena on November 20, 2012 in Turin, Italy.  (Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images)
Claudio Villa/Getty Images

Former Chelsea favourite Roberto Di Matteo is the front-runner for the vacant Sunderland job after Paolo Di Canio's own players reportedly called his bluff following Saturday’s defeat to West Brom.

Di Canio will head back into the club one final time on Monday to tie up loose ends, while Sunderland’s director of football, Roberto De Fanti, is keen to lure Di Matteo into the hot seat, according to Ian Murtagh of the Daily Star:

Black Cats director of football Roberto Di Fanti (sic) is close to former Chelsea boss Roberto Di Matteo, with reports in Italy claiming he has already been lined up to take over at the Stadium of Light.

Di Matteo, who won the Champions League during his last full season at Stamford Bridge, has 10-11 odds with Sky Bet to replace his countryman, who was axed on Sunday night after a dire start to the 2013-14 campaign:

Sunderland AFC confirms that it has parted company with Head Coach Paolo Di Canio this evening.

— Sunderland AFC (@SAFCofficial) September 22, 2013

Sami Mokbel of the Daily Mail reports Di Canio’s downfall was sparked by his own crisis meeting with the Sunderland squad, which resulted in the Italian challenging his players to call for his head:

The summit quickly turned sour after Di Canio pointed the finger at a number of his players, blaming them for their poor start to the season.

A clutch of his players, however, are understood to have responded angrily at Di Canio’s dressing down, telling the Italian in no uncertain terms what they thought of him.


Di Canio is then said to have told his disgruntled players to tell the club’s hierarchy to sack him if they no longer wanted him in charge.

Certainly Sunderland needed a change. One point from the opening five games is an accurate reflection of how poor they have been this season, despite 14 summer signings. The frustration among supporters was evident at the final whistle at the Hawthorns.

Saturday’s 3-0 thumping by West Brom came against a side who had also looked totally out of sorts, as the Baggies had not won prior to the weekend. Di Canio’s men, though, were distinctly second best.

One of the criticisms Di Canio had of his Sunderland squad was a lack of focus, as he accused them of falling to pieces after West Brom scored their first goal. He reportedly tried to stop his players speaking to club staff on match days in order to improve concentration, according to Paul McCarthy on Sky Sports News and Colin Young of the Daily Mail.

Di Canio said after the weekend loss, per Mokbel’s article: “The players need to release the rubbish from their brains. They have to have more confrontation, more anger with each other.”

If Sunderland do appoint Di Matteo this week, his first job will be to galvanise the squad and focus their minds ahead of Liverpool's visit in their next league game.

The Black Cats first have a midweek League Cup tie with Peterborough to address, for which Kevin Ball will take charge. Clashes with Liverpool and Manchester United follow that fixture, handing the new man a baptism by fire.

However, Sunderland’s next manager will inherit a squad united enough to send their former boss packing, as well as a group of players likely to be delighted to see a new face at the helm.

There will be no expectation on them to win either of their next two league games, which will take all pressure away and potentially create the right type of conditions for a shock result.