Some will say he wasn't given enough time. Others will say it was only a matter of time. We'll never know whether Di Canio's Sunderland could have been a success in the long-term, but it should be clear now that chairman Ellis Short is looking for a unifying character, in contrast to the abrasive style that characterised Di Canio's short reign. Here are the bookies' tips for the job, in order of likelihood:
1. Roberto Di Matteo (odds 3-1):
CV: Pretty much as good as you’ll get at this level. Did kind of win the Champions League by fluke, as Chelsea were second best in the Semi-Final and the Final. Nonetheless it was an incredible achievement, especially given that he was playing with AVB's team, and had very little time to get them playing ‘his way’. His time at West Brom was more difficult to gauge, with the club deservedly being promoted, but perhaps not having the quality within the team to stay up at that point.
Milton Keynes Dons (2008-2009) - Win %: 51.92
West Bromwich Albion (2009-2011) - Win %: 48.19
Chelsea (2012) - Win %: 57.14
Style of play:
His Champions League winning Chelsea team were very direct, but before then Di Matteo had always played with a far more expansive, free flowing style. At Sunderland team the latter approach seems more likely.
Would he lose the dressing room?
Seems like an arm-over-the-shoulder type who wouldn’t ruffle too many feathers. Could be a welcome breath of fresh air after Di Canio, but might also signal a return to the lack of commitment that characterised the end of O’Neill’s reign.
2. Gianfranco Zola (6-1):
CV: Had a so-so spell at West Ham, but probably overachieved somewhat in retrospect, especially when you look at how badly the same team did under Avram Grant the following year. His spell at Watford has been heavily backed by the club’s Italian owners, but under his influence they’re probably the best team in the Championship right now.
West Ham United (2008-2010) Win %: 28.75
Watford (2012-Present) Win %: 50.oo
Style of play: Attack attack attack. Watford score a lot of goals and regular thrashing teams with 5 or 6, but let a few in too. It’s certainly never been boring since he took over.
Would he lose the dressing room? Seems like a strong personality, but also a friendly, positive presence. Would probably be able to work with Sunderland’s strong Italian contingent as well.
3. Gus Poyet (6-1):
CV: Widely considered the ‘brains’ behind Leeds’ early success under Denis Wise in League One, Poyet has gone on to establish himself strongly at Brighton. Having been a mid table League One side at best when he took over, Poyet very quickly turned them into promotion contenders for the Premier League, before his ambition and outspokenness got him sacked - some would argue unfairly.
Brighton and Hove Albion (2009-2013) - Win %: 44.33
Style of play: Heavily indebted to a Spanish-influenced possession style, Poyet’s teams play pretty, passing football. They’re also pretty clinical however, with his success at Brighton down to a winning mentality as much as flair.
Would he lose the dressing room? A firey, passionate character who has probably the most in common with Di Canio on this list. Nonetheless, while the media might enjoy the odd outburst about officials or the club hierarchy, Poyet has stopped short of alienating his players, so far…
4. Steve Mcclaren (6-1):
CV: The ‘Wally with the Brolly’ will always be haunted by his abject failure as England manager, not to mention the apocalyptically poor time he endured at Wolfsburg and Nottingham Forest. But to be totally fair to Mcclaren, he has had his fair share of success as well. Winning the League Cup for Middlesborough has to be a highlight, as was his huge success for FC Twente in winning the Dutch League with a previously obscure and unknown club. All in all, wherever he’s gone it’s been either been an unprecedented success or an absolute disaster. Not a choice for the faint-hearted.
Middlesbrough (2001-2006) - Win %: 38.80
England (2006-2007) - Win %: 50.00
Twente (2008-2010) - Win %: 63.37
Wolfsburg (2010-2011) - Win %: 29.17
Nottingham Forest (2011) - Win %: 23.08
Twente (2012 -2013) - Win %: 48.44
Style of Play: Fairly pragmatic, but neat, tidy and organised, with and an eye for an unorthodox tactic or two. Impossible to say how he would play with the current Sunderland teams, but he likes good wide players, which they have in abundance.
Would he lose the dressing room? Has a reputation as a bit of a fuddy duddy, but seems to have had the respect of his players during his successful spells. Definitely wouldn't if he was having one of his managerial 'good days'.
5. Tony Pulis (7-1):
CV: Pulis has pretty much made his career out of taking journeyman clubs and pushing them up the table with his hard working, functional style. Has spent most of his time with Stoke, where over two separate spells he was manager for over 10 years. The fact that Pulis has provided stability to struggling clubs in the past might be attractive to the Sunderland hierarchy; the fact that his former club seem to be doing fine without him under Hughes won’t be.
Bournemouth (1992-1994) - Win %: 28.97
Gillingham (1995-1999) - Win %: 43.52
Bristol City (1999-2000) - Win %: 30.30
Portsmouth (2000) - Win %: 31.43
Stoke City (2002-2005) - Win %: 35.88
Plymouth Argyle (2005-2006) - Win %: 30.77
Stoke City (2006-2013) - Win %: 36.64
Style of play: Pulis has a kind of cult legend status as the game’s most puritanical modern exponent of kick and rush, route one football. You really do know what you’re getting with Pulis, and while it might not be exciting to watch, there’s no denying his teams offered an interesting and unique challenge for the big clubs. Expect pundits to start querying whether Messi could “do the business” on a “rainy Monday night in Wearside” if he gets the job.
Would he lose the dressing room? Not in the way Di Canio did, although Kenwyne Jones has recently come out and said that he felt worn down by Pulis’ functional style of play, and was thinking of leaving the club unless things changed.