Former Swindon Town boss Paolo Di Canio has been appointed head coach of Sunderland. The 44-year-old agreed to a two-and-a-half-year deal with the Black Cats to succeed Martin O’Neill, who was sacked by chairman Ellis Short following Saturday’s 1-0 loss to Manchester United.
Di Canio enters the fold with seven matches remaining and one clear objective – keep Sunderland in the Premier League. At just one point above the relegation zone and with a challenging remaining schedule (Chelsea, Newcastle, Everton, Aston Villa, Stoke, Southampton and Spurs), the job won’t be easy. But Di Canio, who has no-top flight managerial experience, is well-known for a firey passion that Short believes is the key ingredient for his club’s success.
“Paolo is hugely enthused by the challenge that lies ahead of him. He is passionate, driven and raring to get started,” Short said. “The sole focus of everyone for the next seven games will be to ensure we gain enough points to maintain our top-flight status. I think that the chances of that are greatly increased with Paolo joining us.”
Former Sunderland defender Michael Gray echoed Short’s words, admitting he is pleased to see the animated 44-year-old bring his zeal to the Stadium of Light. “He is bonkers but great for the Premier League and I hope he gets it right,” Gray said. “It’s going to be entertaining if nothing else and if he can get a win in the Tyne-Wear derby it could be like Jose Mourinho running down the touchline.”
After a stunning 23 year playing career, Di Canio was hired at Swindon in 2011 and spent 21 months at the club. Last season he secured promotion out of League Two and when he stepped down in February 2013 (citing off-the-field issues) he left the club in a League One play-off position.
Following his stint at Swindon, Di Canio proclaimed himself ready for the next level. “I believe I am at a stage now where I am a Premier League or Championship manager,” the Italian said. “I have already proven my ability in League Two and League One, where there are many arrogant and average players and I was able to turn [around] their mentality and help them become better footballers.”
The turn around will have to come quick if Sunderland are to avoid the drop. The Black Cats have gone eight matches without a win and recently suffered a huge blow when captain Lee Catermole and leading-scorer Steven Fletcher were ruled out for the season. Confidence, rather than arrogance, appears to be Sunderland’s biggest problem.
Di Canio’s hiring did not arrive without controversy as Sunderland’s vice-chairman and non-executive director, David Milibrand, immediately resigned from his post stating, “In the light of the new manager’s past political statements, I think it right to step down.” The political statements Milibrand refers to arise out of a 2005 interview that Di Canio gave to Italian news agency ANSA where he admitted to having fascist leanings. “I am a fascist, not a racist,” Di Canio explained.
Whether those two positions are mutually exclusive is debatable. But one thing’s for sure, things just got a lot more interesting at Sunderland.