PAOLO DI CANIO admits he feared Ellis Short would have a change of heart after the political storm during the first 72 hours of the Italian’s Sunderland reign.
But Di Canio has branded Short’s support “incredible” after the Sunderland owner kept faith in the former West Ham striker as the right man to lead the Black Cats in the survival battle.
Short’s decision to replace Martin O’Neill with Di Canio prompted the first criticism of the American during his four-and-a-half years in charge at the Stadium of Light after the nature of the new head coach’s political views became national news.
Yet Short telephoned Di Canio to express his backing during the furore and reiterated his optimism for the future when the pair held talks after last weekend’s victory over Everton.
Short’s support has paid off, with a third successive Premier League win at Aston Villa tonight virtually assuring Sunderland’s Premier League status.
Di Canio told the Echo: “For three days after I signed the contract, what happened?
“I don’t have to go through it all again, but look what happened.
“He might have thought, now I’ll sack him straight away because he was under pressure.
“Instead he backed me 100 per cent, 1,000 per cent. He supported me in an incredible way.
“It was a strange moment, a strange situation in time those three days.
“I thought maybe he would call me at that time and say... But instead he rang me and backed me all the way.
“He said: ‘Proceed’ because you have complete support from the board.
“From there, I felt even more energy, I was even more focused and even more determined to get the best out of the team and I believed that no matter what the split with fans, I would look to make them happy as quickly as I could.”
As Di Canio looks back on his first four weeks in the Sunderland hot-seat, he admits his CV could have dissuaded Short before he even decided to make the appointment.
Although Di Canio had led Swindon from League Two to the summit of League One, his experience in the dug-out was limited to those two seasons in the Football League.
Di Canio’s departure from the County Ground in February was not particularly harmonious either after winger Matt Ritchie was sold behind his back before the club’s protracted takeover prompted his resignation.
“Every day I realise that what has happened to me is even more incredible,” added Di Canio, who pointed towards Short in the directors box as he left the pitch against Everton.
“When I first got here, all I thought about was the team but now I can appreciate what a big moment it was for this club.
“The decision the owner made was not easy because I was a League One manager; a League One manager.
“Let us be honest about it, I was a League One manager – it’s a fact.
“And on top of that, there’s the fact that I left in difficult circumstances.
“People know about that. But if you didn’t know the circumstances, you might wonder about me.
“He (Short) was the first in the top league to believe in me.
“That was an incredible thing for me and made me closer to him even more because he gave me the opportunity I dreamed of many years ago of managing in the Premier League.”