“Pure box office” – that’s how former Swindon chairman Jeremy Wray described his ex-team’s former manager. And the first week of Paolo Di Canio’s tenure as Sunderland manager has done nothing if not prove Wray right.

The red tops and broadsheets have been fizzing with stories probing the 44-year-old’s past, alleging links to far-right groups and adherence to the precepts of Fascism.

Initially Di Canio refused to answer questions on the subject. In the past, the Italian is reported to have said he was “a fascist but not a racist”, which to many is like saying: “I’m a golfer but I’m not a bore”; one necessitates the other.

He finally distanced himself from the hateful ideology after pressure mounted on the club. Sunderland published a statement from Di Canio on its website stating: “I am not a racist and I do not support the ideology of fascism. I respect everyone. I am a football man and this and my family are my focus. Now I will speak only of football.”

Well, that’s that then (except we all know it won’t be). I deeply hope that for the sake of Sunderland – a proud club built on the northeast’s longstanding traditions of community and inclusiveness – Di Canio was appointed for footballing reasons, rather than to bolster the club’s profile.

The sacking of Martin O’Neill, who, regardless of Sunderland’s position, undoubtedly remains one of the most formidably talented football manager’s this country has produced in the past 20 years, was almost impossibly poorly timed.

The Sunderland board can only have been hoping that the typical three-game bounce by the appointment of a new manager more-or-less always generates would pull them to safety.

With Wigan on their now almost traditional late season surge, and the Black Cats just a point above the dropzone, the 18th spot, the Premier League’s worst position is yet to set its sights on a victim, and despite Di Canio’s appointment, Sunderland are in its crosshairs.

Is Di Canio’s appointment a shrewd move? letters@tntmagazine.com


Ioane example to Aussie Brat Pack

The news that Digby Ioane has spoken out following his dropping from the Queensland Reds game against Western Force after a bar altercation tweaked both my optimism and cynical synapses this week.

The powerful centre is perceived by many to belong to a clique of precious and disruptive Wallaby players, including James O’Connor and Quade Cooper.

Players with remarkable natural talent, that would see them walk on to most international teams, who have lived their entire careers in the professional era, and, as a result, behave more like molly-coddled brands-on-legs than rugby players.

Ioane last week said his punishment for the bar brawl had been a “wake-up call”. Let’s hope his work as an ambassador for a Cerebral Palsy League and the responsibility he claims he now feels as a role model for the kids playing in it, isn’t a ploy. I’m willing to believe him and here’s hoping others follow his lead.


Photos: Getty