Playing with fire: Sunderland appoint Paolo Di Canio

Di Canio SunderlandPaolo Di Canio may have taken charge of Sunderland on April 1, but his appointment is no joke.

Indeed, perhaps November 5 would have been a better date, because the only thing guaranteed is fireworks.

There’s been a huge outpouring of opinions on the Italian being given the job, not just from Sunderland supporters but all manner of football fans, with very little to do with his actual managerial ability.

It’s understandable, of course. Di Canio is a man who has confirmed his fascist views in the past, who has a tattoo that shows an admiration of Mussolini.

The infamous picture of him giving a straight-armed salute to Lazio fans has been dredged up and circulated around social networks. Not a Nazi salute, as some believe, but a Roman fascist one that was repeated back to him by the fans.

Be that as it may, there’s no doubting that the gesture was inflammatory, and it’s not as if it was a one-off, he has knowingly repeated it.

Sunderland’s vice-chairman, David Miliband, resigned from his role before the ink was dry on Di Canio’s contract, because of the latter’s past political views.

Whether or not Miliband’s role at the club was of any real importance – and I’d suggest it no longer was – it is pretty damning for arguably the highest-profile individual at Sunderland to resign in protest at the new manager. From the outside looking in it is chaotic, a PR-disaster, and a huge risk from chairman Ellis Short.

On the flip side, the fact that Short was willing to lose Miliband to appoint Di Canio surely points to the Italian having impressed the billionaire, and irrevocably proving to him that he’s the right man for the job.

His managerial career is very much in it’s infancy. He has enjoyed success with Swindon, winning League Two and guiding them to a cup final, but this represents a huge step-up. Not just in terms of class, but in terms of pressure, of the challenge, and of the players and egos he’ll be dealing with.

Putting the politics to one side, he is still known as a volatile, unpredictable character. From shoving-referees as a player, to clashing with his striker as a manager, there has been no shortage of controversial incidents.

This, of course, makes his appointment all the stranger. He’s seemingly Roy Keane mark two, but with a spoonful of fascism. Given Short’s relationship with the Irishman, you wouldn’t have thought he’d be in a rush to work with such a character again.

I must confess as to not having seen much of Swindon Town, but from what I’ve read they largely played 4-4-2, with full-backs overlapping. Given Sunderland only have two fit recognised strikers, neither of whom have scored for the club this season, and full-back has been an area of weakness (especially when Danny Rose has not been fit) it’ll be interesting to see the tactical approach and team line-up Di Canio chooses.

Having sacked Martin O’Neill, an ambitious young manager was the correct approach, certainly when the other option is a tried and tested failure such as Steve McLaren or Mark Hughes, but someone along the lines of Gus Poyet would perhaps have been preferable.

The length of contract also strikes me as quite strange. Two-and-a-half-years is the deal, so while it isn’t an interim appointment by any means, it isn’t exactly the sort of long-term planning you’d have expected with the appointment of a young manager.

For now, though, the future is the next seven games. Di Canio’s immediate job is to save the club from relegation. No more, no less.

Di Canio has divided fans, because of all the aspects mentioned above, but ultimately it will be results on the pitch that he is judged by.

It could be he relights the fire that has gone out of the club. Alternatively, it could be that he burns the place down.

The Author

James Hunt

Sports Journalism student, Sunderland fan, write about German football at, Premier League/Sunderland at, A Love Supreme etc.

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