Paolo di Canio was named the new coach of Premier League strugglers Sunderland on Sunday, a move which sparked the resignation from the club board of a former British secretary of state for foreign affairs outraged by the Italian’s right-wing views.
Di Canio replaced Martin O’Neill, who was sacked on Saturday.
“Sunderland AFC have confirmed the appointment of Paolo di Canio as head coach on a two-and-a-half-year deal,” a club statement said.
The 44-year-old Di Canio took charge yesterday in succession to O’Neill, who was axed on Saturday following a 1-0 home defeat to Manchester United which left Sunderland just a point above the relegation zone.
Di Canio left third-tier Swindon Town in February, having guided the club to promotion from the fourth tier of English soccer.
His appointment immediately sent shockwaves through the struggling club, with former British secretary of state for foreign affairs David Miliband resigning from his role as vice chairman and non-executive director.
Miliband said he was quitting in protest at Di Canio’s self-proclaimed support of fascism and his praise for former Italian dictator Benito Mussolini.
“I wish Sunderland AFC all success in the future,” Miliband said. “It is a great institution that does a huge amount for the northeast 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.”
Despite the controversy, Sunderland’s American chairman Ellis Short backed Di Canio to succeed in his principal task of keeping the club in the Premier League.
“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.”
“Our fans have shown tremendous patience and understanding this season. They have continued to back the team in huge numbers, both home and away, and that is something that continues to inspire all of us in our drive to give them the successful club they deserve. That remains our primary aim,” he said.
Di Canio had spells with Juventus, AC Milan, SS Lazio and Celtic during his controversial playing career.
He famously served a long suspension for shoving over referee Paul Alcock while playing for Sheffield Wednesday in 1998.