Pitchside Europe

Why Di Canio is in good company: The legends who got dumped a few games into the season


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Bobby Robson, Paolo Di Canio and Kenny Dalglish

Paolo Di Canio's sacking on Sunday saw him join a tiny group of managers who have been fired half a dozen games or less into a Premier League season.

The volatile Italian got off to a nightmarish start at Sunderland when brought in last March as he was repeatedly asked to deny his fascist leanings.

But the former Swindon boss ended the talk in the best possible way, by keeping his men in the top flight over the final few weeks of the season.

And when Sunderland chairman Ellis Short backed him to the hilt in the transfer market this summer - bankrolling an extraordinary 14 new signings - it seemed that the Black Cats owner had nailed his colours to the mast. Di Canio was being given all the backing he needed to do a good job.

Five matches into the league season, all that changed. Four losses and a draw in five matches, culminating in an abysmal 3-0 defeat by West Brom that saw the manager standing on the pitch after full-time gesturing to booing fans, Short decided he had seen enough.

Di Canio's in surprisingly good company, however. We take a look at the top-flight bosses who were sent on their way before the clocks even went back.

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Six matches - Brian Clough

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Let's start with an icon: Brian Clough, whose 44-day reign as Leeds United manager at the beginning of the 1974-75 season has become the stuff of footballing legend, and even inspired a lightly fictionalised book and film, The Damned United.

Clough had started badly - telling his new players at his first training session to "throw your medals in the bin because you won them unfairly" - and things got worse as the reigning English champions picked up one win, two draws and three defeats in their first six league games of the season.

Five matches - Ruud Gullit

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Dutch legend Ruud Gullit had done a solid enough job with Newcastle in his first season in charge, guiding them to mid-table safety and the FA Cup semi-final.

But things quickly began to go horribly wrong as the next season began. The Dutchman did the unthinkable by falling out with Alan Shearer - tantamount to a newly-elected Pope falling out with God - and started dropping him from the team. He might have got away with it had the results been good, but four defeats and a draw in his first five league games - the latter a 2-1 home defeat by arch-rivals Sunderland - saw him quit under heavy pressure from the board.

Four matches - Bobby Robson

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The legendary England boss was hailed as a saviour when he came to take over from Ruud Gullit in September of 1999, and kicked things off in style with an 8-0 win over Sheffield Wednesday. Several decent years followed, including two top-four finishes, but when the Toon just missed out on the Champions League spots at the end of 2003-04 season things started to look shaky.

Robson was backed over the summer, but when they lost two and drew two of their opening four matches of the new season enough was enough for club owner Freddy Shepherd. Graeme Souness ended up taking over, and it would take Newcastle another eight years before they managed to finish as high as fifth in the league again.

Two matches - Kenny Dalglish

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Kenny Dalglish took over from Kevin Keegan at Newcastle in January 1997 and was initially a big hit as he guided the Toon to second place in the league and Champions League football. That summer he decided to gamble, however, offloading the likes of Peter Beardsley and David Ginola and bringing in old cronies including Ian Rush and John Barnes. It backfired, and the Magpies finished 13th in the league. He was given another summer to sort it out, but after two draws in his first two matches of the season he was axed to bring in Ruud Gullit.

No matches at all - Martin O'Neill

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Okay, so he wasn't strictly dumped, but we had to give this one a mention anyway. The man Di Canio took over from at Sunderland knows all about leaving clubs abruptly: he guided Aston Villa through the summer and pre-season in the summer of 2010, but after endless battles with the board over transfer policy he walked out of the job five days before the new campaign kicked off.

Honourable mentions:

Not being a football legend means he doesn't earn a spot in our main list, but if he was then Paul Sturrock would arguably be the most maltreated of the lot. He lasted just two games of the Premier League season as manager of Southampton in August 2004. The first of those was a 2-0 defeat, but the second was a 3-2 win - apparently not convincing enough for the board, however, who pulled the rug from beneath him. The Saints won only one more league match between then and the end of January, and finished dead last in the league.

And in the lower leagues, Norwich appointed goalkeeping legend Bryan Gunn to be their permanent manager in the summer of 2010 despite him getting them relegated to League One while on a short-term contract the season before.

Gunn's first match of the new season was a disaster: a 7-1 defeat at the hands of local rivals Colchester, which famously saw one disgusted fan throw his season ticket at the Canaries boss in the dugout. The manager and his men bounced back a few days later with a 4-0 League Cup win over Yeovil, but the board had already seen enough: they fired the 45-year-old, ending an association with the club that had lasted almost interrupted since 1986.

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