Paolo Di Canio's reign at Sunderland was very odd. We can agree on that, at least. But at the end of last season, there were reasons to believe that it wouldn't be a complete disaster.
Sunderland had veered from one disappointment to another, good runs being followed by mediocrity and remarkably rapid stagnation, so Di Canio's rhetoric, of transforming the mentality of the club, was an attractive one. The idea that there was some terrible, deep-rooted problem at the club made sense as a reason for why nothing good appeared capable of taking root there, and there were undeniably some players with highly questionable attitudes to back the notion up.
The problem was that it was a phony revolution. All we heard from it were stories of banning condiments, while players who seemed to be working perfectly well like Stephane Sessegnon were gotten rid of, and insufficient replacements were brought in. The new players hardly made sense either - if Di Canio wanted battlers and dedicated performers, why bring in the cowardly, shirking Ki-Seung Yeung? Or Modibo Diakité, a man who asked for Mesut Ozil's shirt at half-time? Or the ambling, lethargic Jozy Altidore?
None of it seemed to make sense. In response, some have claimed that Marcelo Bielsa represents the best choice to take the club forward. This is, obviously, extremely unlikely, but right now it's about the last thing the club needs.
Bielsa's second-to-last job, as the manager of Chile, was undoubtedly a success. But his last tenure at Athletic Bilbao was an utter disaster. They played some decent football and progressed well through Europe, but were almost relegated, and had the development of countless players (among them Manchester United's target Ander Herrera) set back. The club's clock was turned back by a year at best, several at worst.
All this in a league which is far more forgiving for its medium-sized clubs than the Premier League, too. Bielsa may be thought of to represent the great unknown, a contrast to the Steve Bruce and Martin O'Neill stalwarts of the Premier League, but it's almost impossible to imagine him being a success.
Roberto di Matteo is one name mentioned, but the man himself seems reluctant to take the job. Whether it's because he's worrying about why Sunderland has been such a managerial graveyard in recent years, or because he thinks he can land a better job, we don't know. But it's not a particularly inspiring choice. There are the worries over suggestions about the club's preparation which led to his demise at Chelsea, along with nothing exceptional in the league or over any extended period of time to suggest he can complete the transformation of Sunderland necessary.
Sunderland need an exorcist, but it may not necessarily be of the Di Canio variety. For all the players binned and brought in, his team were still lining up with the likes of Craig Gardner and David Vaughan in midfield. It's possible that a lack of competent midfielders, along with a couple of other positions, was all the problem ever was. They don't need someone capable of building up a new ideology - they need someone capable of building a team, out of good players playing in the correct positions, and other remarkable innovations.
Of course, it's hard to find anyone like that on the rather uninspiring list of candidates. In that sense, the appointment of a Director of Football in Roberto De Fanti may have been the best move, provided he is any good at his job, which is questionable. After gutting the team from head to toe, however, they need someone who can build a team without completely gutting it.
The unfortunate truth is that they were probably closer to getting the right man with the Steve Bruce and Martin O'Neill appointments than any fantasies about Bielsa. O'Neill's ideas, however, had become more outdated in his absence, while Bruce was cursed with poor luck over being unable to maintain hold of his best players, which combined with poor runs of form left little to show that progress was being made. But they were not, at least, regressing. That alone would be a bonus for any appointment now.