Sunderland football club has captured a lot of headlines today, but not for their performance on the pitch. That, of course will come as no surprise to the diehard Mackems this season, who are undergoing a trying time. To add to their woes, the appointment of a new manager, with just a handful of games until the end of the premiership season has given them the sort of publicity they didn't want.
There's no doubt that Paolo Di Canio is (or was) an incredibly gifted footballer, capable of acts of breathtaking skill on the pitch. There's also no doubt that he's also committed some bizarre acts both on and off the pitch that also take one's breath away. He's what's known as a "character", which is often another way of saying "I'm glad he's not in our team".
The problem for many people with his appointment is his declaration of fascist sympathies. He wrote in his autobiography about his views on the former Italian fascist leader, Benito Mussolini; "I think he was a deeply misunderstood individual. He
deceived people. His actions were often vile. But all this was motivated
by a higher purpose. He was basically a very principled individual.” Mr Di Canio has also said that his own views are "fascist, not racist", which probably comes as little comfort to those trying to defend his reputation, which was also damaged by his delivery of a straight-arm fascist salute in Rome in 2005 after he scored for Lazio against bitter local rivals Roma.
Since then, he's managed Swindon Town, with barely a raised eyebrow in the media, though the local GMB union withdrew their financial support for the club. So why is there such a media furore now over his views? It's partly timing, since Easter is a quiet time for news. It's partly, with all due respect to Swindon Town, that Sunderland is a higher profile club. It's partly that David Milliband has resigned from the club's board in protest (though presumably his departure for New York would have meant his departure was imminent anyway). But mostly, I think, it's because Paolo Di Canio himself attracts (one might even say courts) publicity.
The issue for most Mackems, I suspect, is not his political views, but whether he can keep the club in the premiership. There are some, a few of whom were on the radio today, who believe that his appointment is wrong, regardless of the outcome. In a day or two, I suspect the storm over his political past will blow away, and matters on the pitch will take precedence. But for now, I would urge Mr Di Canio to keep his hands firmly in his pockets.
Picture Credit: Wikipedia, Creative Commons Licence