PAOLO DI CANIO says victory at St James’s Park would be the highlight of his fledgling managerial career.
Despite being limited to the lower leagues during his first stint in the dug-out at Swindon Town, Di Canio experienced several stand-out moments.
The Italian steered Swindon towards promotion from League Two and also led out the Robins at Wembley for the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy final, albeit they suffered defeat.
But Di Canio acknowledges Sunday’s Tyne-Wear derby represents a different level altogether, where victory would mark both Sunderland’s first win at St James’s in twelve-and-a-half years and provide a major boost in their fight against the drop.
Di Canio said: “Up to date as a manager, the best moment was to reach the JPT final at Wembley.
“That was fantastic because it was the maximum I could obtain at that moment. And then I won the league.
“The most important thing for us is to stay up. But to win the war in this game would be amazing.
“We’d create a special day for everyone to remember for many years to come. And it would be three points as well which we need at this moment.
“So if we win, it will be my proudest moment as a manager because we will have delivered satisfaction for everyone.”
Di Canio is relishing the prospect of the deeply partisan atmosphere at St James’s in just his second game in charge of Sunderland after overseeing last weekend’s 2-1 defeat at Chelsea.
And the Italian revealed how Sunderland supporters have been quick to remind him of the importance of Sunday’s clash after arriving on Wearside 12 days ago.
He added: “The other morning, I went out of the hotel and there was a guy there working and he shouted ‘Paolo, come on, come on... look’.
“And then he rolled up his trouser leg and he had a Sunderland tattoo.
“To be in a place where we are 2,000 vs 50,000, it would feel like we have conquered, like the Roman Empire, fighting for our kingdom and our pride.
“I can’t wait. It gives you so much energy.
“I’ve always liked to be the underdog to create something special. It’s an amazing stage to be on.
“It was great to start at Stamford Bridge and now to face the enemy tops that.
“We have to have the drive and energy and raise our game. Challenge for the ball, keep the ball and strike on goal with determination and desire.”