Skip to main content

'Fascist' Di Canio's appointment prompts MP to quit soccer club

By Gary Morley, CNN
updated 8:18 AM EDT, Tue April 2, 2013
Controversial Italian Paolo Di Canio has landed his second club manager's job with English Premier League side Sunderland. Controversial Italian Paolo Di Canio has landed his second club manager's job with English Premier League side Sunderland.
HIDE CAPTION
Paolo Di Canio: 'Fascist not racist'
Paolo Di Canio: 'Fascist not racist'
Paolo Di Canio: 'Fascist not racist'
Paolo Di Canio: 'Fascist not racist'
Paolo Di Canio: 'Fascist not racist'
Paolo Di Canio: 'Fascist not racist'
Paolo Di Canio: 'Fascist not racist'
Paolo Di Canio: 'Fascist not racist'
Paolo Di Canio: 'Fascist not racist'
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Former British politician quits soccer club in protest at controversial appointment
  • David Miliband leaves Sunderland after Paolo Di Canio is named as manager
  • Italian is proud of his fascist beliefs and is an admirer of Benito Mussolini
  • Di Canio's views cost his former club Swindon a key sponsorship deal

(CNN) -- It was announced a few hours before April Fool's Day, but the appointment of one of the most controversial characters in European football is no laughing matter for one English Premier League soccer club.

Sunderland's American owner Ellis Short hopes Paolo Di Canio can keep the struggling team in the top flight, but his vice-chairman -- British MP David Miliband -- has already resigned his role in protest.

"In the light of the new manager's past political statements, I think it right to step down," the ex-foreign secretary said on his website following Sunday's news that Di Canio will replace the sacked Martin O'Neill on a two-and-a-half-year contract.

Miliband, who had intended to retain his role at Sunderland despite taking a new job with an international humanitarian organization based in New York which will see him give up his South Shields constituency, was referring to the Italian's right-wing leanings.

Is Premier League manager a fascist?
Boateng: Racism in football must end
Ginola on why PSG are worth it

"I am a fascist, not a racist," Di Canio infamously told Italian news agency ANSA after making a straight-arm salute to the fans of his hometown club Lazio during a match against Rome rival Lazio in 2005.

Read: Mandela's legacy - How EPL team fell for Africa

He was later fined and suspended for one match by Italian football authorities after another so-called "Roman salute" during a match against Livorno.

A ex-member of Lazio's notorious hardcore fan group the "Irriducibili," Di Canio admitted in his autobiography that he is "fascinated" by Italy's former dictator Benito Mussolini, who enacted anti-Semitic laws and oversaw the deporting of thousands of Italian Jews to concentration and death camps.

Lazio has this season been charged four times with racist behavior by its fans.

Di Canio's politics seem to come in stark conflict with Sunderland's recent attempts to establish itself in the African market.

Saturday's home match against Manchester United, a 1-0 defeat that proved to be O'Neill's last in charge, marked the start of a collaboration with the foundation of Nelson Mandela.

Read: Greek player banned for fascist salute

The former South African leader's messages of peace and equality will be promoted for the next three years, Sunderland's marketing director Mike Farnan told CNN on Friday. Miliband had a key role in the club's African push, Farnan said.

Di Canio is not a man who has a history of peace -- as a player he was banned for 11 matches for pushing over a referee while at English club Sheffield Wednesday in 1998.

CNN FC: Countdown to quarterfinals
Is Juventus 'unsinkable'?

His only previous managerial job, at English third division club Swindon, ended in February when the 44-year-old quit due to the club's financial problems.

His arrival at Swindon in May 2011 prompted one of the club's main sponsors -- the GMB trade union -- to withdraw its backing due to his political views.

Read: Meet Italy's proud football racists

Di Canio did lead Swindon out of England's bottom division, and after he quit said he was ready for a top job in a country where he was widely recognized as one of the most talented players of his era during spells with West Ham and Sheffield Wednesday.

"Paolo is hugely enthused by the challenge that lies ahead of him," Short said on Sunderland's website. "He is passionate, driven and raring to get started.

"The sole focus of everyone for the next seven games will be to ensure we gain enough points to maintain our top-flight status. I think that the chances of that are greatly increased with Paolo joining us."

Read: Contrasting fortunes for EPL's American club owners

Di Canio issued a statement through the club on Monday insisting that his personal politics had nothing to do with his job, and that past media reports had blown his comments out of proportion.

"I expressed an opinion in an interview many years ago. Some pieces were taken for media convenience. They took my expression in a very, very negative way -- but it was a long conversation and a long interview. It was not fair," he said.

Football helps champion street kids
Spain coach Del Bosque: I've been lucky

"Talk about racism? That is absolutely stupid, stupid and ridiculous. The people who know me can change that idea quickly," he added, saying that former teammates Trevor Sinclair and Chris Powell -- who are black -- were his best friends when he was playing in England.

"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."

Sunderland CEO Margaret Byrne added that the club "has a strong ethos and ethics and that has not changed in any shape or form."

"Paolo is an honest man, a man of principle and a driven, determined and passionate individual. To accuse him now, as some have done, of being a racist or having fascist sympathies, is insulting not only to him but to the integrity of this football club," she said.

"It is disappointing that some people are trying to turn the appointment of a head coach into a political circus."

Despite his controversies on and off the pitch, the charismatic Di Canio was popular with many fans of the clubs he played for.

In 2001 he was given FIFA's Fair Play Award for a "special act of good sportsmanship" while playing for West Ham, when he picked the ball up and refused to score as an opposing goalkeeper lay injured.

Having started his career with Lazio in 1985, he went on to play for top Serie A clubs Juventus, Napoli and AC Milan before a successful season in Scotland with Celtic earned him a move to England.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 7:51 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Last season Jose Mourinho wrote off the title of hopes of his "little horse" -- but now he has a squad primed to dethrone Manchester City.
updated 2:58 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Luis Suarez will have to wait until late October to make his competitive Barcelona debut his ban for biting an opponent was partially upheld.
updated 12:49 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Can Louis van Gaal cut it at Manchester United? Will Bayern conquer all in Germany? Is this PSG's year to win the Champions League?
updated 6:12 AM EDT, Thu August 7, 2014
It's been a difficult year for Barcelona on and off the pitch, and the signing of Luis Suarez has only increased the prospect of more controversy.
updated 10:35 AM EDT, Mon August 11, 2014
Germany striker Miroslav Klose, who scored a total of 16 goals at four World Cup finals, has announced his retirement from international football.
updated 7:45 AM EDT, Thu July 31, 2014
Cultural y Deportivo Leonesa line up in their tuxedo kit.
When celebrating an important anniversary, it's always good to look your best. At least that's theory for a Spanish football team's preseason tuxedo kit.
updated 7:03 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
While many top European clubs are targeting the U.S. market, French football is setting its sights on expanding into Asia -- with China playing a key role.
updated 8:29 AM EDT, Sun July 27, 2014
Major League Soccer has snared another big name from England with former Chelsea star Frank Lampard committing his future to New York City FC.
updated 12:56 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Europe's top clubs have booked a summer holiday to the U.S. -- but this is business not pleasure as they look to cash in on the World Cup afterglow.
updated 2:28 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Brazil's new coach Dunga won the World Cup as a player in 1994.
Former World Cup-winning captain Dunga is appointed coach of Brazil's national team for the second time, charged with restoring national pride.
updated 10:20 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Colombia's World Cup star James Rodriguez continues Real Madrid's long tradition of signing "Galacticos."
updated 6:07 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Germany's World Cup-winning captain Philipp Lahm has decided to go out at the top by announcing his retirement from international football.
ADVERTISEMENT