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SBD Global/April 2, 2013/Franchises

New Sunderland Coach Di Canio's Past Political Statements Cause Tension For Club

Paolo Di Canio gestures toward fans at the end of a Lazio vs. AS Roma Serie A match in 2005.
Premier League club Sunderland has "put their faith in Paolo Di Canio to save it from relegation" after the sacking of head coach Martin O'Neill, according to Luke Edwards of the London TELEGRAPH. The Italian "has been appointed as head coach" on a two-and-a-half-year deal. He was "introduced to the players at the training ground on Monday morning." Owner Ellis Short said that the chance of the club surviving in the Premier League had been "greatly increased" by Di Canio's arrival. However, the appointment "immediately caused unrest at the club" with the resignation of Vice Chair and Non-Exec Dir David Miliband in protest at Dei Canio's "past political statements." Di Canio was banned while at Serie A side Lazio "for celebrating a goal with a fascist salute." The Italian claimed at the time that "he was a fascist but not a racist." Football Against Racism in Europe CEO Piara Power "also voiced his concern." He said on Twitter that Di Canio was the "first fascist coach" in the Premier League (TELEGRAPH, 3/31).

KEEPING DISTANCE: In London, Ben Quinn reported Miliband made the announcement he was stepping down "at around the time Di Canio's appointment as the club's manager was being confirmed publicly." In a statement posted on his website, Miliband said: "I wish Sunderland AFC all success in the future. It is a great institution that does a huge amount for the north-east, and I wish the team very well over the next vital seven games. However, in the light of the new manager's past political statements, I think it right to step down." Miliband's announcement was praised by many, including Labour MP Stella Creasy, who said on Twitter that his decision to part company with Sunderland was "all the more powerful" given how much the role meant to him. However, commentator and former footballer Stan Collymore tweeted: "Faux outrage as always on twitter. No Italian ex footballer every called me N*****. Just plenty from the wonderful UK shires" (GUARDIAN, 3/31). Also in London, Matthew Goodwin wrote "while in the past, football probably introduced many to racism, it has arguably done more than any other part of British society to publicly repudiate racists and fascists in recent years." This shift seems to have been lost on the directors of Sunderland, "who by hiring a self-described fascist have shown themselves to be at odds with wider society" (GUARDIAN, 4/1).

DI CANIO DEFENDS HIMSELF: The GUARDIAN also reported Di Canio said it is "stupid and ridiculous" for him to be described as racist. In a statement released on Monday by the club, Di Canio said: "I don't have a problem with anyone. I don't know why I have to keep repeating my story, to be defending myself on something that doesn't belong to me every time I change clubs. Talk about racism? That is absolutely stupid, stupid and ridiculous." Sunderland CEO Margaret Byrne said: "It's been very disappointing to read some of the reaction to Paolo's appointment" (GUARDIAN 4/1). In London, Mark Cue reported Di Canio insisted he is "determined to tackle football issues." Di Canio: "What I can say is that if someone is hurt, I am sorry. But this didn’t come from me -- it came from a big story that people put out in a different way to what it was." He added, "I want to talk about football, my players, the board and the fans. I don’t want to talk any more about politics -- I am not a politics person" (LONDON TIMES, 4/1).

PANIC BUTTON: In London, Alan Hansen opined O'Neill's dismissal "proves chairman are panicking more than ever." We know they are getting increasingly twitchy and all those managers fighting off relegation at this stage of a season have cause to be worried, "but I cannot recall such an experienced, high-profile manager being dispensed with in quite such circumstances." There was a time as a manager "you could afford a bad season and get a second chance." Then you "could not afford a poor few months." On the evidence of Saturday, "it seems an especially awful afternoon will prompt a concerned owner to shoot the pistol, albeit the latest defeat, and the manner of it, came on the back of several setbacks" (TELEGRAPH, 3/31). Liverpool Manager Brendan Rodgers said, "Whenever someone of the status of Martin O'Neill loses his job, then we all have to be on the back foot. I think some clubs need to be careful. They need to understand where they are at. They won't always be on the front foot. There are some times when the club just has to be stable and guys like Martin O'Neill losing his job, it's a sad day" (London INDEPENDENT, 3/31).
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