Paolo Di Canio forced out of Sunderland by “player power.” The so-called, by himself, Special One, Jose Mourinho, making a confused and shaky start or if you prefer it re-start at Chelsea. David Moyes, successor to all those triumphant years of the Alex Ferguson regime, under fire after Manchester United’s virtual capitulation to Manchester City. With the likes of big John Hartson, once such an effective centre forward for Wales, publicly wondering why he had been given the job at all.
As against all this, happier and more productive days at Bayern Munich for the ex-Catalan Pep Guardiola, after such an uneasy beginning; easy successors both in the Bundesliga and in the European Champions Cup. And a flying start at Napoli for Rafa Benitez, after his difficult days at Chelsea. Initially jeered by the fans all too aware of those days when he ran Liverpool, though you might say he had the last laugh after early reverses with a string of victories, and success in the secondary Europa Cup. Meanwhile with Napoli he has begun with panache despite the loss of the prolific Uruguayan striker Cavani, even beating the formidable Borussia Dortmund in the first leg tie at home.
Di Canio was plainly doomed after a dreadful start to Sunderland’s season, a profligate summer transfer policy – which could not wholly be blamed on his two Italian executives – and his draconian behaviour towards his players. Despite his repugnant commitment to Fascism – nothing “alleged” about it, pray; he flaunts it in his autobiography, ever an admirer of Mussolini, Sunderland appointed him in an area of North Eastern England where a long established close-knit mining community detested everything Fascism has stood for.
Eventually and somewhat cravenly the usually forthright Di Canio – whom I’ve personally found a friendly, intelligent and pleasant off field figure – denied his Fascist affinities, despite the existence of numerous photographs which show him giving the Fascist salute. Even those Sunderland fans briefly forgave him when he took his team to Newcastle United, the deadly historic rivals, won the match 3-0 then plunged on his knees into a puddle. But it was hardly likely to last and when, in the summer, he enrolled a plethora of foreign players, you might say that the die was cast. The situation exacerbated by his dictatorial behaviour, with its veto on all kinds of normal practice and behaviour.
Mourinho’s case is very different, yet you do wonder whether the old saying, that lightning doesn’t strike twice, is all too evident. The writing was surely on the wall when last season he so crucially and disastrously “lost the dressing room” at real Madrid, where so many of his players turned against him.
At Chelsea, there did seem to be shaft of light when he took his team, minus almost all his recently highly expensive signings, to Prague, where in the so-called Super Cup against Bayern Munich Chelsea lost only on penalties after playing much of the game with only ten men thanks to an expulsion.
Since then, however, we have had – and I was there to see – the humiliation of a European Cup home defeat by modest Basel, who recovered from a one goal deficit to nullify the Chelsea attack and score two goals of their own. At his post match press conference, Mourinho said somewhat vaguely that he would never criticise his players after a defeat, taking the blame himself, but would praise them after a victory. Which begged the question of a Chelsea team with manifest problems.
It was made all too ironically clear the following Saturday that Mourinho, already criticised for excluding the effervescent and inventive Juan Mata from his teams, though Mata last season was the club’s outstanding player, insisting that Mata somehow had to “adapt.” But on an afternoon when Chelsea struggled to an unconvincing local derby win against a weakened Fulham, without star striker Dimitar Berbatov, across London young striker Romelu Lukaku, on loan to Everton, was in scintillating form as a substitute even heading a brave winning goal.
With that powerhouse of a striker, Didier Drogba gone, Lukaku with his strong building and speed looked the ideal replacement. But just as he went on loan last season to West Bromwich Albion, so Mourinho lent him to Everton, the dubious excuse being that it would help him to mature.
Meanwhile, Fernando Torres such a failure, alas, after his £50 million transfer from Liverpool, remained, with Mourinho talking unconvincingly about Torres’ need to adapt his style, while it has been all too evident that the veteran Samuel Eto’o, once such a star in Spain, is in the fading years of a once prolific career. And for the game against Fulham Mourinho even excluded the Brazilian centre back David Luiz from the whole squad. Luiz does take risks in his forays from defence but this seemed like a punishment.
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