“Scoring against Manchester United and putting them out was better than having sex with Madonna and if we beat Aston Villa it will be just as good.” You’ve got to love Paolo Di Canio, haven’t you?
Somehow, despite the (very) dodgy political views, the tantrums, the ego and the ever-increasing penchant for blaming everybody and anybody other than himself when things go wrong, the former West Ham star just remains an incredibly fascinating individual, one of the few still left in football who doesn’t just tow the party line with trite platitudes and middle management speak.
It may have something to do with how the sanitisation of footballers has led to there being very little character left in the game, but whenever Di Canio opens his mouth, people listen. He never fails to say something that makes you laugh, or think, or wince, or wonder how, despite all the flaws in his make-up, the Italian is shaping up to become a very good manager indeed.
You would not have thought the man who was banned for pushing over a referee and made a Nazi salute to the Ultras in the Lazio crowd during the Rome derby could ever hold command over a group of players, but his tenure at Swindon Town has been a resounding success, justifying the decision of the Robins board to take the chance on such a controversial figure in the face of initial scepticism and opposition.
Like all those who straddle the line of genius – and on his day, Di Canio could do things on a football pitch few others could emulate – he is stone cold bonkers, as the quote above demonstrates. But he has organised a Swindon team that had been relegated to League Two in abject fashion to become incredibly hard to beat and Town are still on an upward trajectory.
The League Two title was won with something to spare and Swindon go into tonight’s Capital One Cup tie with Aston Villa at the County Ground just one place outside the League One play-off places. You can get 9/4 on a home win, with the draw at the same price and Villa as the 23/20 favourites, and I have a feeling that once again, Di Canio will be the centre of attention – this time for all the right reasons – come the final whistle.
The former Sheffield Wednesday playmaker would love nothing more than to laud it over yet another Premier League club and having knocked out Wigan Athletic in last season’s FA Cup and Stoke City in this year’s League Cup, he can get the taste for it again.
Until a brilliant 4-0 win at previously unbeaten at home Stevenage on Saturday, Swindon have not been at their best of late and an impending transfer embargo has seen Di Canio throw his toys out of the pram. But the County Ground remains near impenetrable: last season, Swindon won 19 of their home matches, keeping an incredible 19 clean sheets, and though 11 points from seven home games this year is not as fearsome, they have still conceded just five goals.
It is the sort of form that should have Villa wary and let’s not forget, the Midlands club are rank bad. I have to admit I seriously overestimated the Villans’ chances this season, mainly on the back of the appointment of Paul Lambert, who I still believe is a fine manager. But he has absolutely nothing to work with whatsoever and it is going to be a long season for those on the Holte End.
Over the course of the last 38 games, Villa have amassed just 32 points and that is relegation form and no mistake. After watching their dismal performance against Norwich on Saturday, even with ten men, I can’t back Villa to be beating anyone and I think a wound-up Swindon can get the job done eventually.
I say eventually, as I am going to hedge my bets slightly, as tempting as the 9/4 is, and take the 7/5 that Swindon qualify for the next round. That way, if it is a draw at full-time, if Swindon get through in extra-time or on penalties you will get paid out. And if that happens, let’s enjoy what Di Canio has got to say for himself.