Sunderland’s Di Canio has ‘passion and desire’ to beat Newcastle

Paolo Di Canio.
Paolo Di Canio.
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THE FURORE over the nature of Paolo Di Canio’s political views have overshadowed any footballing reservations over the Italian.

But Ellis Short has unquestionably gambled on a manager whose experience in the dug-out is limited to Leagues One and Two.

Points will be Di Canio’s only currency in proving he is capable of transferring his success from Swindon to Sunderland, particularly at St James’s Park in 10 days time. CHRIS YOUNG reports.

THE objectors to Paolo Di Canio’s appointment aren’t going to magically disappear.

If their principles are merely overcome by victories on a football field, then those same convictions were barely worth consideration in the first place.

But, despite the storm it has caused since Sunday night, reservations to Di Canio are not simply limited to his political views, even if Sunderland did attempt to clarify them with a second statement yesterday.

However flat Sunderland may have become under Martin O’Neill, the former Aston Villa manager still boasted unsurpassed stocks of experience.

Di Canio doesn’t.

Although the Italian passed his UEFA A coaching licence with record marks, that is no substitute for years and years at the coal-face.

The 21 months that Di Canio enjoyed at Swindon Town were overwhelmingly successful, yet in the realms of Leagues One and Two, the benefits of a fitness first policy can reap significant rewards.

Ellis Short clearly felt Di Canio’s exuberance and passion over-rode the concerns over his inexperience and took a chance.

It wasn’t working under O’Neill so why not try something completely different?

Di Canio is certainly an extreme opposite to O’Neill and already that has led a gaggle of ex-pro’s to tip the new Sunderland head coach to lead the Black Cats to safety.

The appointment of the former Sheffield Wednesday striker has found almost overwhelming favour among the younger element of Sunderland supporters too.

For the Championship Manager generation, Di Canio holds obvious appeal; a volatile figure not afraid of coming to blows with his players or celebrating wildly like a fan on the terraces.

That favour will quickly fade if Di Canio cannot get the eight or nine points needed for Sunderland’s survival though.

Sunderland have not struggled at the wrong end of the Premier League for nothing over the last two years.

There are clear deficiencies in this squad which contributed to the dismissals of Steve Bruce and Martin O’Neill, albeit neither were able to find solutions with their lofty investments in the transfer market.

An unlikely point at Chelsea on Sunday would hand Di Canio an ideal start, and there is surely an opportunity for Sunderland at Stamford Bridge with Rafa Benitez’s side facing their fourth game in nine days.

But it is the subsequent encounter which could cement opinion on Di Canio and whether Short was right to dismiss O’Neill before he had completed a full season.

Should Newcastle fail to beat Fulham on Sunday, then the Tyne-Wear derby holds immense repercussions.

For the victors, Premier League survival would be within touching distance. For the losers, doom would dominate.

Some would wilt under that weight of pressure. Steve Bruce’s terror at being unable to put aside his Geordie roots certainly contributed towards Sunderland’s ‘rabbits in the headlights’ display in the 5-1 rout at St James’s Park in 2010.

But without question, Di Canio will relish the occasion.

The white-hot atmosphere in hostile territory is manna from heaven for a character who experienced the intensity of the Old Firm during his solitary season at Celtic.

Even though Di Canio has stressed the importance of the Chelsea game and the priority of Premier League survival during his first week in the job, he can’t help but cast half an eye towards meeting the neighbours.

“I know what it means to play a derby, especially in this area,” he said.

“The passion and the desire to beat the sworn enemies.

“But we have to think step by step.

“We have to think that by May 19 we will be celebrating because this club is still in the Premier League.

“After the Chelsea game finishes, we will think about the derby which counts for a 1,000 games.

“More importantly, I have to think about doing the best job for the players, the club and the fans.”

Putting aside the political objectors, if Di Canio can secure a positive derby result for Sunderland, then he will win over the vast majority of Black Cats supporters.

And if Di Canio can get fans onside, then the relationship could become an amorous one.

Swindon fans took to Di Canio and it was easy to see why; the smashing of the dug-out when things went awry, the wild touchline jigs and the scarf-wielding celebrations.

Unlike other managers, there is no hint of cliché when Di Canio speaks about supporters either.

There is a genuine feeling of warmth and responsibility about his role at the club.

And with Di Canio no longer plying his trade in front of 8-9,000, this could become far more of a love-in than the relationship with the last larger than life Sunderland manager, Roy Keane.

“That (passion) is infectious,” said Di Canio.

“It’s a magic combination.

“Already, I have fire thinking about how we’re going to play with that fantastic following.

“I can’t imagine having 40-50,000 every time singing songs about the club or the players’ names.

“That should be something which gives the players, me and my staff even more.

“I feel the responsibility.

“Even if we were playing in front of one fan, I would have maximum respect.

“But thinking about being Sunderland manager, these fans have a reputation throughout the world, not just England, for the passion they have for the club.

“I can’t wait to be at the Stadium of Light and see them celebrate at the end of the game.

“I want to deliver a fantastic job for them.”

Ultimately, that job centres on whether Di Canio can keep Sunderland in the Premier League, not whether the Black Cats can take the bragging rights against Newcastle.

But the two are intertwined.

If he can achieve success in both, then the love affair could blossom.

Some will never see it that way.

Lauding a manager who has previously expressed such a political stance – despite yesterday’s clarification – would be as unpalatable as the darker side of fascist philosophy itself.

But on football alone, the next 10 days will be pivotal for Di Canio’s stock on the terraces.