Paolo Di Canio: Sunderland manager 'hurt' by fascist claims

Paolo Di Canio

Sunderland have said claims that Paolo Di Canio has racist or fascist sympathies are insulting to the the club and its new manager.

The Italian, accused of praising Mussolini and making fascist salutes to fans, was appointed boss of the Premier League club on Sunday.

The appointment prompted former foreign secretary David Miliband to resign as a director of the club.

Di Canio said that to call him a racist was "absolutely stupid and ridiculous".

"Of course it hurts because people try to take your dignity and that is not fair," said Di Canio in a statement.

"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."

Mr Miliband resigned from the board of Sunderland because of Di Canio's "past political statements" but chief executive Margaret Byrne denied Di Canio was a fascist or a racist.

"Naturally it's been very disappointing to read some of the reaction to Paolo's appointment in the last 24 hours," said Byrne.

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Media captionDi Canio's managerial philosophy

"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."

Di Canio reportedly called fascist dictator Mussolini "a very principled ethical individual" who was "deeply misunderstood". In 2005, he was pictured making a raised-arm salute to a group of supporters of Roman club Lazio, for whom he was a player.

"What I can say is that if someone is hurt, I am sorry," added Di Canio.

"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.

"Talk about racism? That is absolutely stupid, stupid and ridiculous. The people who know me can change that idea quickly. When I was in England my best friends were [black England players] 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."

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

Di Canio first came to Britain as a player in 1996 when he joined Celtic, and followed his time in Glasgow with spells at Sheffield Wednesday, West Ham and Charlton.

He retired in 2008 after spells in Italy with Lazio and former Serie C1 side Cisco Roma, and was handed his first managerial role by Swindon in May 2011, replacing Paul Hart.

Di Canio spent 21 months at the County Ground. After securing promotion, and with Swindon in the League One play-off positions, he quit the Robins on 18 February after becoming frustrated by off-the-field issues.

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