The hotbed of soccer has got its own hot head now in the form of new Sunderland manager Paulo Di Canio. This may have been a strange choice, but now it has become a controversial decision after the Democratic Republic of British Football raised its concerns about one of its clubs hiring a man who – eight years ago – said he was a fascist.
Should we be worried? I think not. First of all, it was eight years ago when Di Canio openly declared his right-wing tendencies. He was playing for Lazio, a club whose fascist connections are well known. Video footage of Di Canio’s fascist salutes, aggressive and vaguely menacing, do him no credit, but are his politics so much different from the average tone from the terraces?.
Di Canio, in his autobiography, expressed his concerns that Italy was in danger of becoming a muslim country within a decade. This is the sort of comment you can easily hear in any major football ground. I’ve listened to it. Actually, the muslim population of Italy is just 1.4%.
Di Canio’s explanation of his own stance, “I’m a fascist, not a racist”, suggests that he is somewhat naïve – the two are connected. He’s also extremely self-confident and arrogant – referring to himself in the third person is a trait adopted by Diego Maradona. Essentially, however, his politics are his own affair.
Sunderland must have known about Di Canio’s past. It’s not been a secret. Just how seriously he takes himself is unsure, but Di Canio, who grew up among the infamous Ultras at Lazio, is certainly no Eric Cantona. He made fascist salutes to supporters who could identify with them. The Roman club is, after all, indelibly associated with right-wing politics. There may just have been an element of “pleasing the crowd” when he scored, but in the youtube age, his goals and salutes are free for all to see. There’s no hiding place in cyberspace.
Di Canio should be judged by his behaviour and how we manages the Sunderland team. It could be doomed to failure as every negative result will trigger off bouts of criticism not unlike the Rafa Benitez debacle at Chelsea. And let’s not forget, he has seven games to save his team. Sunderland’s Board has to shoulder this and support its man, regardless of the outcome this season. Continuity is important, even if you are playing in the Championship.