Fascist Di Canio

It has not been long since Sunderland lost 1-0 to Manchester United and the board of directors sacked Martin O’Neill. Sunderland was dangerously close to relegation and was playing extremely poorly. Under O’Neill they lacked invention, creativity and, most importantly, goals. This situation was not helped when their top striker Steven Fletcher was declared injured for the remainder of the season, while on international duty. Sunderland had seven matches and desperately needed a few wins to keep itself safe. What was worrying is there was no indication that this team was good enough to score, let alone win a football match. Enter Paulo Di Canio.

The Sunderland board took quick action by hiring Paulo Di Canio, the manager who had walked out on Swindon Town after taking them up last year over wage demands. Di Canio is very well known in England for his wonderful performances for West Ham United, and is considered one of the legends of the great club. He is also remembered for pushing a referee after he was sent off and for refusing to play by sitting down on the pitch in one match. This past year, he got into a fist fight at Swinder with one of his players who he accused of not giving enough effort, he substituted a goalkeeper after only 20 minutes and he broke into the boardroom and trashed the office a day after walking out of the club. One thing you can guarantee with Di Canio is that he will make things interesting and will fire up the players and the fans. Maybe that is what Sunderland needed, that seems to be what the board thought anyway.

After Di Canio as announced as manager, the media chose to focus on his political views. Di Canio, a former Lazio player (the fascist club of Rome), is a known fascist, was present at the funeral of former fascist Italian leaders, has Il Duce, Benito Mussolini’s nickname, tattooed on his back and was captured giving the fascist salute after one match. There were major questions about whether or not Sunderland should have hired a man whose idol is Mussolini and who in his autobiography even tried to play down some of the atrocities Mussolini committed. In the past week, Di Canio has commented that he is a fascist but is not a racist and only believes in certain political ideologies of fascism rather than its social ideologies. Should this matter, though? I don’t think Di Canio’s political views affect how he manages a football team and, furthermore, if he keeps Sunderland up, I don’t think their supporters will care either.

Di Canio’s first match was against Chelsea and he was on his best behavior. The media was undoubtedly looking for anything to put on the back pages, but Di Canio kept his calm even after seeing his side lose a one goal lead and fall 2-1 thanks to two very fluky Chelsea goals. This weekend’s match was a really big one though. The Tyne-Weir Derby between Sunderland and Newcastle is one of the most ferocious in England. This was even more aggravated with both teams not secure from being relegated and two managers who are prone to excessive displays of emotion. Newcastle was expected to win the match comfortably, but Sunderland shocked everybody by winning 3-0 and dominating the match. Di Canio’s emotional celebrations instantly made him a hero in the eyes of the Sunderland faithful, and sparked massive riots amongst the Newcastle supporters.

Sunderland’s safety is far from secured, but this win may be a huge swing in momentum and has given Di Canio the supporters and players’ backing.