AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE
Published — Tuesday 2 April 2013
Last update 2 April 2013 1:57 am
LONDON: New Sunderland manager Paolo Di Canio has hit back at the storm of criticism over his political beliefs.
Di Canio took his first training session with Sunderland’s players yesterday following his surprise appointment as replacement for sacked boss Martin O’Neill 24 hours earlier.
But the Italian’s arrival at the Stadium of Light has already stirred controversy due to his far right-wing politics.
The former Lazio, Celtic and West Ham striker has previously admitted to having fascist leanings and in 2005 said: “I am a fascist, not a racist.”
Former British foreign secretary David Miliband immediately resigned as Sunderland’s vice-chairman and non-executive director in protest at Di Canio’s stance.
And Piara Powar, director of Football Against Racism in Europe, has called on Di Canio to soften his political beliefs to avoid setting a bad example in such a high-profile position.
But in a statement released by Sunderland on Monday, Di Canio made it clear that he was hurt by the accusations.
“I don’t have a problem with anyone. I don’t know why I have to keep repeating my story, to be defending myself on something that doesn’t belong to me every time I change clubs,” he said.
“Talk about racism? That is absolutely stupid, stupid and ridiculous.” Former Swindon chairman Jeremy Wray, who gave Di Canio his first chance in management, dismissed Miliband’s resignation as a “sad knee-jerk reaction.”
And Di Canio is adamant he doesn’t deserve to be criticized because he feels his political views have been exaggerated to create a negative impression of him.
“What I can say is that if someone is hurt, I am sorry. But this didn’t come from me — it came from a big story that people put out in a different way to what it was,” he said.
“The people who know me can change that idea quickly. When I was in England my best friends were Trevor Sinclair and Chris Powell, the Charlton manager — they can tell you everything about my character.
“I don’t want to talk about politics because it’s not my area. We are not in the Houses of Parliament, we are in a football club. I want to talk about sport.
“I want to talk about football, my players, the board and the fans. I don’t want to talk any more about politics — I am not a politics person.”