Out Of The Debris.
It began in controversy, worked its way through bedlam and ended in total insanity. Bewilderingly it only lasted 12 games.
Welcome to the world of Sunderland AFC.
It is always tempting to think that the present trumps the past for intensity; that nothing like this has happened before. Most times that is just youthful thinking or selective memory. But the turbulent reign of Paolo Di Canio did indeed bring something we have never witnessed before.
Now we are left among the smoldering debris to figure out what exactly happened and more importantly what is left standing to fight an already rearguard action to avoid relegation.
The dirty knees, the late-afternoon operetta after Everton, the slaughter in the rain at Villa, the Bardsley casino caper, the banning of tomato sauce, the ins and out of brothel-like proportions on the playing front were just warm up acts.
The real star of the show, in fact the only star, was the man himself.
Each time he opened his mouth and took a breath 20 minutes later, words flew out in endless convoluted sentences, which delighted some, irritated others and frankly confused a lot of us.
Many loved to hear him rip into players for a drinking culture, a laziness regime or a don’t-care attitude. In some ways he was expressing our own annoyance, not just at the current lot, but at all those who now populate the game with their Bentleys at 20 and lucrative deals that would make Donald Trump blush.
But look deeper and put yourself in the place of those players. Yes, they have money, but they remain young men and public humiliation does not sit well. Putting a player out for a few minutes after half time then yanking him back to the bench seemed to serve no purpose but that of the bully.
So what? They get paid a lot. Yes they do and late night drinking sprees on the eve of games should rightly be stamped out.
But in the end any sport – any job - is so much a matter of confidence. Tell a man he is great, praise him to the heavens and he will perform better. Sometimes, of course, he needs a kick in the pants. But he’ll accept it more readily if it is done in private instead of in front of the baying hounds of the media, who will now wonder what that silence is around the Stadium of Light and long for Paolo’s return.
Still, on a personal level, it is sad to see him leave. There is no question he gave us everything he had. No one can ask more of any man than that. But it was never going to end with a whimper so the only true shock is just how quick this all unraveled.
And what is left? Lots of new players who must be wondering what in heaven they have wandered into, an old guard that many fans are suspicious of, a huge hole in the coaching staff and yet another search for a manager. Whoever that is I wish him luck because he’s taking over the Somme-battleground of footballing institutions right now.
If there were a battered fans society then Sunderland supporters would be charter members. How they react to the players now is key. Many feel betrayed and few will feel much confidence, given recent performances. If ever we needed a league win then this is the time.
For of all the balms that could be applied to the gaping wounds at our club right now that is the one which will inevitably prove the most effective.
Beat Liverpool and we can start to move forward. It is as simple, and as brutally difficult, as that.
(Our Canadian Correspondent)