THE appointment of Paolo Di Canio as Sunderland’s head coach proved nowhere near as controversial for the club’s fans as it did to the media and the rest of the football world, according to the Echo’s Survey 2013. writes GRAEME ANDERSON.
The Italian’s appointment as Martin O’Neill’s successor brought a deluge of criticism and castigation the club’s way as the controversial former Swindon manager came under the microscope.
Ill-judged comments he made about fascism, as well as photographs of him giving “the Roman salute” to Lazio fans and being pictured at a Mafia mobster’s funeral were all given an airing as he made front-page national headlines as well as back-page ones.
Most damagingly, former Foreign Secretary David Miliband resigned as Sunderland’s vice-chaiman saying he could not be associated with a manager who espoused Di Canio’s political beliefs.
Durham Miners Association leaders also criticised the appointment, proposed a boycott and demanded their banners be taken down at the Stadium of Light.
But while Sunderland AFC and its new head coach found themselves in the eye of the storm, they were not under siege from the majority of their own fans.
Only one in five in our survey said they opposed Di Canio’s appointment – which is not bad considering almost half of Stoke fans are said to oppose the proposed appointment of Mark Hughes as Tony Pulis’s replacement at the Britannia and almost half of Newcastle fans, in a current Tyneside survey, want manager Alan Pardew to go unless he makes a good start to next season.
The comments from fans were what really made interesting reading, with many expressing the view that a drastic remedy was needed given Sunderland’s plight, as well as it being unfair on Di Canio for so much to be made of things outside of football.
Graeme Hogg, of Sunderland, said: “A club overhaul was overdue and if any manager could do it then Di Canio was first choice.
“That, together with the success he achieved at Swindon, albeit at a lower level, and his other credentials, like having been a top, gifted player in the Premier League”
Gary Dixon of Wallsend, said: “Leave his private life out of it and just look at football terms.”
“It was horrendous publicity initially, but that was the responsibility of the management of the club being naive about the possible reaction to his questionable political leanings which, in the North East, are strongly felt,” said Malcolm Pearson of Malvern.
There were plenty of fans who had absolutely no problem at all about the Italian’s arrival at the Stadium of Light.
“Well worth the gamble. Next season will be exciting,” said John Kelford of Washington.
Malcolm Atkinson, of Hatfield in Hertfordshire, said: “I think it’s a breath of fresh air.
“Totally different to anything this club has had before.
“We will see who does actually want to play for the club and earn the vast amounts of money they get paid.”
That was the tone of the vast majority of replies, but there were one or two Sunderland fans who remain uneasy about Di Canio being in charge of their club.
“I’m appalled that SAFC should have appointed a man with such dubious political ‘connections’. And the detractors who claim that this is no basis to oppose him are deluded and have no grasp of our history,” said one anonymous respondent.