Paolo Di Canio will run the gauntlet as he dons his boots to play in Steve Harper's testimonial game at St James' Park tomorrow night – but he has found a heavyweight ally in the shape of AC Milan former team-mate Franco Baresi.
With more than 40,000 fans set to throng Newcastle United’s stadium for the star-studded charity game, Sunderland boss Di Canio is assured of a hot reception as he pulls on an AC Milan shirt for the game.
But the Black Cats manager is said to be unfazed by the prospect, just as he has brushed off criticism of his management style – which has attracted some opprobrium following his outspoken Press conference railing against his underperforming players.
Yesterday morning saw reports that Di Canio had criticised his senior players again for falling to a defeat in a behind-closed-doors game against the club’s under-21 team, but Baresi is certain that his former team-mate has the mental fortitude to make a success of his management career.
The Sunderland boss (pictured right) has the “character” and “passion” to become a success in the Premier League, something that Baresi feels was always his aim after he hung up his boots. “When I was playing, I never thought that he could become a manager. But now it is easier to see why it has worked,” Baresi said ahead of his own appearance at Harper’s testimonial.
“He has shown that he has a strong character, with passion. His objective was never to coach in Italy – it was always to come back to England. I think that Paolo now has a good chance to be a really big success, and I don’t think he will want to miss it. He will do his best to show that he can do it.
“When I played with Paolo Di Canio at AC Milan, I felt he was really talented and a very good player. But he only played with us for a short period. He was a strong and very talented player.”
Di Canio will be particularly pleased to get such a ringing endorsement from a player he described as “like an older brother” during his time at Milan.
The Sunderland boss admired the “quiet determination” of the experienced defender and marvelled at the way that he managed to command respect from his team-mates without actually saying anything. For his part Baresi is just as honoured at the mention in his autobiography.
The AC Milan great feels that Di Canio’s character actually makes him a good man manager, rather than the ogre he has been portrayed since the Crystal Palace defeat.
“I am honoured that Paolo mentioned me in his book, and said such nice things,” he said.
“He has some good skills and character that he will definitely try to bring to his players.
“He has a certain attitude that will be reflected in his teams. Paolo is a passionate person and that will come through. You get respect if you are an example and he wants to be the example for his players.”
Interestingly there was also a defence of Di Canio’s methods from John O’Shea, who was contacted by the Black Cats boss after his criticism following his mistake against Palace.
He said: “He rang me the next day and all is nice.
“Getting criticised is one of those things and that is his style of management.
“What he had to say to me is private but let me put it to you this way, it was him calling me. The criticism does not bother me in the slightest.
“It is water off a duck’s back to someone like me. Because he is such a passionate man, everything he does is getting hyped up.
“The only thing I am annoyed about is the fact that I let the team down.
“We were getting back into the game so, you know, that was the frustrating part.”