ELLIS Short last night took the biggest gamble of his four years as Sunderland chairman by appointing Paolo di Canio as the club’s new head coach.
The controversial Italian last night held talks about taking charge of a Premier League club for the first time and will be formally unveiled today on a two-and-a-half-year contract.
However, the move resulted in vice-chairman and non-executive director David Miliband resigning due to Di Canio’s “past political statements”.
Short moved quickly to appoint the ex-West Ham and Celtic star after surprisingly sacking Martin O’Neill on Saturday. Di Canio now has just seven games to save the Wearsiders from relegation.
After a 1-0 defeat to Manchester United and Wigan Athletic’s 1-0 win over Norwich City, Sunderland are a point above the Premier League relegation zone.
Di Canio’s only previous job in management was with Swindon, winning League Two last season before walking out on the Wiltshire club in February when a proposed buyout of the club was not forthcoming and winger Matt Ritchie was sold without his knowledge.
The fiery Italian has never been one to go quietly and there has since been talk of him suing the Robins and allegations he broke into the club’s offices in the night to tear down pictures. His eventful time at the County Ground also featured a post-match fight with his own player Leon Clarke, caught by TV cameras.
He was no more of a stranger to controversy as a player. In September 1998 di Canio was banned for 11 matches after pushing over referee Paul Alcock, and he twice gave a fascist salute to Lazio’s “ultras” after scoring against clubs with traditionally left-wing fan-bases.
Eventually the Roman club released him and he moved to Cisco Roma in Italy’s regionalised fourth tier. It was alway hard to see how appointing an unashamed fascist and Benito Mussolini admirer would not embarrass Miliband, who has stepped down as vice-chairman after also resigning as a Labour’s South Shields MP last week to move to New York.
A complex character, di Canio scored what was voted to be the greatest Premier League goals of the Noughties, a volley against Wimbledon, and in 2001 won a Fifa Fair Play Award for catching a cross rather than scoring from it because Everton goalkeeper Paul Gerrard was lying injured. His fledgling managerial record is impressive, with 54 wins in 95. Since leaving Swindon he has been linked with jobs at Reading and West Ham.
Di Canio has more managerial experience than first-timer Roy Keane, who took Sunderland from the Championship relegation zone to the title in his debut season.
However, the Irishman joined in August, whereas di Canio needs instant results or will find himself managing in the Championship next season.
His first match is at Chelsea on Sunday, followed by a trip to Newcastle United seven days later. Having been unable to bring him to the club after relegation in 2006, O’Neill was a very popular choice to manage Sunderland when he took over in December 2011.
A boyhood fan – he only reluctantly rejected their overtures five years earlier because he was caring for his ill wife Geraldine – even in his final game in charge there was no noticeable chanting for his sacking.
However, in his pre-match programme notes Short, who was not at the match, acknowledged, “I’m very aware our supporters aren’t happy and fully understand why.” The club have not won in eight matches and O’Neill lost more of his 66 matches than he won (25-21).
Reclusive Texan billionaire Short bought a 30% stake in Sunderland in September 2008 and was thought to be the main influence behind Keane’s February 2009 sacking.
Three months later he ousted Niall Quinn as chairman, leaving the Black Cats boardroom with very little football experience.
Short appointed and sacked Steve Bruce before turning to O’Neill halfway through last season amid fan pressure for the Wallsend-raised Bruce to go.