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WEMBLEY 2012: Di Canio silences pre-season doubters
THERE have probably not been too many managerial appointments that split opinion as much Paolo Di Canio’s did at Swindon back in May.
Within hours of being becoming the 31st manager to take the reins at the County Ground, the football world was discussing the wisdom of Di Canio’s appointment.
Some saw it as inspired, with his passion and drive ideal to help lift a side still hurting from relegation. But many thought it foolish to give such responsibility to a person known for his erratic temperament as a player.
Plenty predicted it would all end in tears within a matter of months – a view only enhanced by Swindon’s poor start to the season. But, 10 months on from when he first arrived in Wiltshire, it is fair to say he has surpassed all expectations.
Not only has Di Canio crafted a side firmly on course for automatic promotion but he also oversaw Town enjoy one of their best FA Cup runs for years and, tomorrow, he will lead his side out at Wembley for the final of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy.
Di Canio, a self-proclaimed workaholic, has given plenty to the Swindon cause this season, but tomorrow’s game will be just as much for himself as it will be for the club.
“For me obviously it will be very important,” he explained. “It is the first time as a professional in football to have the chance to go to Wembley.
“It’s unbelievable that in my first year as a manager I will be taking a team to challenge for a trophy in the best stadium in the world that has the most tradition. It is amazing.
“The only cup we could realistically win this season was always going to be the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy and it is an amazing moment for me obviously, to have played a part in taking this team to the final.”
Di Canio will be forgiven for feeling a little envious of his players tomorrow, with the chance to play on the Wembley turf in a competitive fixture having eluded him during his own playing days.
“It is a big satisfaction for me to know that my players were capable to reach the final,” he continued.
“It is a big chance for them to play on a stage that I hope they can do every year, but it is not easy. In reality it maybe happens only once in a player’s career.
“But the fact they are so young and already have this chance to play for this trophy, is very important. It is a moment they have to enjoy and to savour.”
Almost a year ago to the date that Town will be walking out at Wembley, they had slumped to defeat at then League One leaders Brighton to push them that bit closer to an inevitable relegation.
It is perhaps testament to just how much good the board, players and management have done this season that that moment feels like a lifetime ago.
“Tomorrow will be an important moment for the club because the mood here was so low in the summer after what happened last season,” said Di Canio. “You can imagine that after dropping to League Two, fans may begin to worry about what might happen.
“A team can disappear because another bad season means you risk going out of the Football League and lots of people can lose their jobs.
“So the fact that we not only saved the season in terms of where we are in the league, but we can also go to the final of a competition and win something is a good moment for everyone involved with this club who are working hard every day.
“It will be a very important day for the fans because the day at Wembley can help them to forget what they felt last season, and they can go to London full of hope to celebrate something in a day they can enjoy with their families and all Swindon supporters.”
There will certainly be a sizeable contingent of Di Canio’s family and friends in attendance, with the Town boss having had to purchase well over a 100 tickets for those back in Italy desperate to be a part of the day.
But one special guest will be experiencing it all from possibly the best seat in the entire stadium.
Swindon Town’s tea man Curly Withers – who has worked in the background at the County Ground for over three decades, will travel with Di Canio to Wembley and also sit on the bench with his technical staff.
“Curly will come with us,” said Di Canio. “He will sit behind the bench with us. It is a day for us all to celebrate together and he deserves the experience.
“He works so hard to make sure everything always runs smoothly, so I am very happy to have people like Curly.
“He is like a symbol of Swindon Town and he is a part of the team.”
On a day that will be just as much about Di Canio as it will Swindon, it perhaps sums up the Italian that he can still take time to think about those whose work behind the scenes goes largely unnoticed.
It is one aspect of Di Canio's character that has helped endear him to the fans, and it is a characteristic that means win or lose tomorrow, fans will still be chanting his name.