Alan Biggs: Will Paolo fit in the Royal family?

editorial image

IF there’s one thing crazier than Paolo Di Canio being linked with the Reading job it’s the thought that he could actually keep them in the Premiership.

Oh yes he could. Don’t ask me how. Or him. He’d give you a long answer but not necessarily a comprehensible one. Everything seems to be done on raw passion and impulse.

And then, after keeping the Royals up, he’d settle down to the steady, long-haul business of establishing them in the top flight? Oh no he couldn’t. With pantomime Paolo it’s only ever going to end in tears.

This is a man who infamously shoved a referee to the ground while wearing a Sheffield Wednesday shirt and yet (and I was there that day reporting for 5 Live) it’s not necessarily the first thing you think about with Di Canio. Which is remarkable in itself.

But this is an extraordinary character, first and foremost a quite fantastic player and one of the best in Hillsborough history across two perforated years yielding 41 appearances and 15 goals.

Lamentably as it now seems, the Owls “gave away” their record £4.2m signing in a £1.7m sale to West Ham - where he played 118 and scored 48! The Italian ended up playing for nine clubs at home and abroad.

Will he serve as many as a manager? He will... if he gets the chance. Which he surely won’t. This is a man who has given fascist salutes and booted his own goalkeeper up the backside.

Last time I saw him was a year ago at Wembley where, after his Swindon side’s defeat to Chesterfield in the JP Trophy final, his after-match press conference was akin to a counselling session with us journalists acting as therapists.

Paolo looked and sounded like a broken man, which showed how deeply he cares. He has also taken some of his instinctive brilliance into management by setting up a possible two successive promotions for Swindon. But I think I know who I’d rather have for the long-term health of my football club. And it would be someone like Brian McDermott, the man thrown overboard by Reading’s billionaire Russian owner after nearly 13 years as the life and soul of the place. Paolo, beat that!

Blades are a big ‘draw’ for some

Good job journalists aren’t paid on results. If they were, my record watching Sheffield United at Bramall Lane this season would read like a P45.

It is: P7 W1 D5 L1. And four of those draws, including last Saturday’s against MK Dons, were goalless. No wonder academy coach Jamie Hoyland took to Twitter to call for a banning order!

In mitigation I did see the Blades force a draw with nine men at Scunthorpe in December. It is for this resilience as a group, this compactness and stubborness, that I can still see why United remain a good bet for automatic promotion.

But there is a fair smattering of quality, too, and the one concern is that it is not counting enough in the currency of home wins. Successive visitors are challenging Danny Wilson’s team to break them down and it is proving difficult even with the craft, vision and skill of playmakers Kevin McDonald and Barry Robson.

Dave Kitson is a huge presence up front, leaving question marks over United’s penetration from wide positions and the absence of goalscoring devilry that Jonathan Forte and Dominic Poleon have the ability to find. I will sneak in unannounced one day to see it all happen...

Curtis sends troll running for cover

Curtis Woodhouse and the Twitter troll: Any threat of violence was imagined rather than real.

As such, the former Blades footballer-turned boxer struck a huge proverbial blow against these pathetic little cowards, having tracked down this low life to the stone he lives under.

Of course, the keyboard “warrior” was too afraid to crawl out. It was a highly amusing episode and only one thing concerns me. The troll’s following has quadrupled. Folks, you’ve had your fun. Get him unfollowed!

The same game but different laws

Howard Webb and the Premier League’s band of eight international referees have no choice but to show red for Nani-type challenges, whether they agree or not.

In European games, that is. Don’t necessarily expect them to do the same in the Premiership. Confused? The most damning aspect of the debate over the sending-off that effectively sent Manchester United out of the Champions League is that our top referees seem to be operating to two sets of rules on dangerous challenges.

I’ll bet they were almost as shocked as Sir Alex Ferguson when Nani was dismissed for his high tackle on Real Madrid’s Alvaro Arbeloa. But I have seen a UEFA directive to officials - sent out two days after the game - that makes it clear to Webb and company (and all FIFA refs) that they must follow suit.

They are told: “Particular emphasis should be placed on the elimination of challenges where a player gives no consideration to the safety of an opponent.” This includes “when contact is made with the ball and opponent at speed.”

Nani appeared to have eyes only for the ball. But his case is scuppered by another part of the UEFA instruction, which says: “Referees should be especially alert to the direction of the tackler’s feet and any use of studs.”

The United star’s boot was up and his studs did catch Arbeloa. But feedback at home suggests this would still have been a yellow card at most in England because of the lack of obvious intent.

The normal life of being a footballer

Flash cars, countryside mansions, millions in the bank... the image of the modern day footballer.

But that is actually as far from reality as the lifestyle enjoyed by a select few. The fact that media coverage is polarised to the Premiership only serves to perpetuate the myth. Not sure if anyone noticed the few words that bubbled to the surface from Bury football club the other day. So far submerged is Gigg Lane that sonar experts can barely get a blip.

Bury’s manager Kevin Blackwell, the former Blades boss, claimed some of his players are earning less than the minimum wage while others have played for nothing. Figures as low as £100 and £200 a week are the going rate at a club under a second transfer embargo. You’d better believe it. I know of a striker not too far from home, a regular in his side and scoring goals, who is on just £400. I say “just” with no disrespect because £20,000 a year is still more than many people earn.

Okay, there are a select few players in League Two earning £200,000 annually. But it does put a lie to the myth that - in a short-lived profession for which there is widespread acceptance of higher-than-average wages - footballers generally have a lavish lifestyle. The distinction should be made more often. The old saying of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer certainly applies to professional football.