Sunderland manager Paolo di Canio has responded to criticism of his politics, claiming it is ‘stupid and ridiculous’ to label him a racist.
Di Canio was announced as the replacement for Martin O’Neill on Sunday and the appointment has been heavily criticised in some sections of the British press, as well as by human rights organisations due to gestures and comments made by the Italian manager in the past.
Di Canio has been quoted as praising former dictator Benito Mussolini and was photographed making fascist salutes on the pitch while playing for Lazio in 2005, but Sunderland CEO Margaret Byrne claimed the negative response to the 44-year-old Italian’s appointment was ‘insulting’.
Sunderland and Di Canio released a joint statement on Monday slamming the criticism.
“Naturally it’s been very disappointing to read some of the reaction to Paolo’s appointment in the last 24 hours,” Byrne said.
“Anyone who has met Paolo and spoken with him personally, as we did in depth before making this appointment, will know that he is an honest man, a man of principle and a driven, determined and passionate individual.
“To accuse him now, as some have done, of being a racist or having fascist sympathies, is insulting not only to him but to the integrity of this football club.”
While not mentioning any specifics, Di Canio argued any previous comments that could be deemed fascist were taken out of context.
“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,” Di Canio said.
“I never have a problem in my past.
“I expressed an opinion in an interview many years ago. Some pieces were taken for media convenience.
“They took my expression in a very, very negative way but it was a long conversation and a long interview. It was not fair. I know it is a part of my job to do interviews because I am well-known but sometimes it suits their purpose to put big headlines and a big story.
“I don’t have a problem with anyone.
“I haven’t had a problem in the past and 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. The people who know me can change that idea quickly.
“When I was in England my best friends were Trevor Sinclair and Chris Powell, the Charlton manager, they can tell you everything about my character.”
While British MP David Miliband resigned his position as vice-chairman of Sunderland over Di Canio’s appointment due to the new manager’s ‘past political statements’, both Byrne and the former striker claimed politics were not an issue.
“We are not in the Houses of Parliament; we are in a football club,” Di Canio said.
“I want to talk about sport. 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.”