Nobody was ever going to be surprised that Paolo Di Canio’s reign at Sunderland was going to be anything but short-term. It was a disaster waiting to happen, from the initial concerns about the Italian’s political allegiance to the way the fiery ex-Lazio man deals with people. It was always all about Di Canio.
Football clubs are great at making ridiculous decisions, in fact it is the decision-making that separates the gifted from the buffoons. How often have we seen a club making an appointment that the rest of the game comes to the conclusion, “It will all end in tears”?
Di Canio is just the latest example, but here are six of the most unlikely managerial appointments over the past 40-odd years.
Sir Alf Ramsey – Birmingham City: A Knight’s tale
Sir Alf had been out of football since his sacking in 1974 as England manager. Birmingham, despite having the much-coveted Trevor Francis in their ranks, were struggling and had just dispensed with the services of Willie Bell. Ramsey’s appointment, at 57, made headlines, but he cut a strange and isolated figure in the modern game, some 11 years after he led England to World Cup glory. Brum were applauded for calling on Ramsey’s experience, but he was already “yesterday’s man”. Under Ramsey, Birmingham played 28 games, won 11 and lost 13. Win ratio was 39.3%. He stepped down in March 1978, exactly six months after taking over and moved on to Greece where he ended his football career with Panathinaikos.
Malcolm Allison – Manchester City: “You’re not a real manager unless you’ve been sacked.”
Allison, for all his off-field antics, was a brilliant coach and much in demand. I met him in the autumn of 1977 when he was at Galatasary in Turkey. He told me he was enjoying the experience and it was all about gaining different influences that could be used later in life. “In 10 years’ time, Turkey will be a hotbed of football,” he predicted. Allison was premature in his forecast and returned to Britain, where he managed Plymouth (for the second time) before returning to Manchester City in 1979. Allison went on a bizarre spending spree, paying huge sums for the likes of Preston’s Michael Robinson, Wolves’ Steve Daley and teenager Steve MacKenzie from Crystal Palace. At the same time, he dispensed with a number of talented and popular players, such as Peter Barnes and Gary Owen. Furthermore, Allison brought back from his travels some new ideas, many of which his team could not understand. It flopped miserably and City took years to really recover.
Wilf McGuinness – Manchester United: “The Manchester United job isn’t for a young man.”
David Moyes would do well to read up on the McGuinness story. A former Busby Babe, McGuinness was his mentor’s choice to succeed him in the Old Trafford hot-seat in 1969. Busby sat along the corridor and was still dabbling in team affairs. To make matters more complex, Wilf was trying to deal with Best, Law and Charlton, to name but a few. It was tough for a young manager to handle a dressing room full of egos as well as a declining team. He lasted 87 games, of which 32 were won and the stress of it all was too much for McGuinness. He lost his hair as well as his job.
Andre Villas-Boas – Chelsea: “I think that I could have been given the chance to continue.”
“Mini Mourinho” was a brave appointment by Roman Abramovich, but it started to backfire when the fledgling manager “lost” the dressing room as well as Premier success. He needed time, something Chelsea managers just don’t have. Despite the posturing in his raincoat on the touchline, AVB never hit it off with Chelsea, but it is good to see he’s doing a good job at Tottenham. He could argue he laid the seeds for Chelsea’s Champions League win in 2012!
Christian Gross – Tottenham: Dr Who?
Looking more like an affluent Swiss dentist than a football coach, “Christian Gross” has become a byword for eccentric managerial appointments. Gross has been a success with Grasshoppers Zurich when he arrived at Tottenham. His poor English didn’t help, but it was really a case of “Christian who?”, as he struggled to win over the fans and the media. His record was not good, either – just nine wins in 26 games from November 1997 to September 1998. It was the poor start to the 1998-99 season that proved to be Gross’s downfall and he was sacked following three straight defeats. He went on to manage Basel for 10 years and subsequently VFB Stuttgart and Young Boys.
Paul Gascoigne – Kettering: “It feels good, I’m excited”
Amid the disaster and tragedy that is the post-playing life of Paul Gascoigne, there was a 39-day spell where he was in charge at Kettering Town, a club not averse to publicity grabbing. Gazza had pledged to invest some of his own money in order to secure one third ownership of Kettering, but it never happened. The club sacked him, blaming his problems with alcohol. He almost had another go with non-league football a few years later with Garforth. As for Kettering, it got them into the national news…
Undoubtedly, Di Canio will turn up somewhere. There’s always one club that wants to make a splash and grab the attention of the media, regardless of how crazy the idea might be. Watch this space….