Hit or miss? Sunderland FC appoint controversial Paolo di Canio as manager

Premier League strugglers Sunderland installed controversial Italian Paolo di Canio in the managerial hot-seat shortly after sacking Martin O'Neill.

Kicking off: Paolo di Canio arrives at Sunderland FC (credit: Graham Stuart/AFP/Getty Images)
Kicking off: Paolo di Canio arrives at Sunderland FC (credit: Graham Stuart/AFP/Getty Images)

Following the appointment, David Miliband stepped down as vice-chairman, citing ‘the new manager’s past political statements’. He is believed to be referring to di Canio saying in 2005: ‘I am a fascist, not a racist.’ In the same year, he was punished for making a raised-arm salute.

How I see it

Laura Oakley, account director, Burson-Marsteller

Other managers have got better footballing CVs. However, di Canio was not hired just for his track record at Swindon, but because he’s a big name. 

Sunderland’s press team and board must have anticipated controversy, albeit not at this level, and should have been prepared. Sending di Canio into a press conference on Tuesday without the owner or chief executive beside him is a rookie error – do they back him or not?

Perhaps media training would have stopped him saying the uproar is ‘ridiculous and pathetic’ and referring to himself in the third person. Ultimately, if di Canio keeps Sunderland up, the controversy around the appointment, and criticism of how it was handled, will be forgotten by all but the club’s biggest critics. If they go down, the episode could easily turn into this season’s biggest footballing PR gaffe.

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