Paolo Di Canio has been named the new manager of Sunderland Football club, swiftly replacing Martin O’Neill who was sacked yesterday following the club’s defeat to Man United.
“Sunderland AFC have confirmed the appointment of Paolo Di Canio as Head Coach on a two-and-a-half year deal,” said a club statement.
The 44-year-old Di Canio will take charge from Monday 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 League Two.
His appointment immediately sent shockwaves through the struggling club with David Miliband, the British foreign minister from 2007-2010, 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,” said Miliband.
“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.”
Despite the controversy, Sunderland’s American chairman Ellis Short backed Di Canio to succeed in his principal task of keeping the club in the lucrative Premier League.
“Paolo is hugely enthused by the challenge that lies ahead of him. He is passionate, driven and raring to get started,” said Short.
“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.”
Di Canio had spells with Juventus, AC Milan, 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.
O’Neill, 61, was in charge at the Stadium of Light for just 16 months having succeeded Steve Bruce in December 2011.
The Northern Irishman was the fifth top-flight manager to lose his job this season following the sackings of Roberto Di Matteo at Chelsea, Mark Hughes at Queens Park Rangers, Nigel Adkins from Southampton and Reading’s Brian McDermott.