Paolo Di Canio's politics are the least of Sunderland's problems


Given all the noise, you’d think Paolo di Canio had just landed a fleet of flat-bottomed boats on Seaburn front and marched on the city centre with 2,000 Blackshirts. His past political statements, not to mention his history of straight-armed salutes, have been enough to convince Labour MP David Miliband to resign from the club board. That was an understandable decision, given that his father fled fascists in war-torn Europe, but perhaps some perspective may be required. 

After all, Di Canio has only uttered controversial words. Miliband voted for controversial military action in Iraq, a ruinous campaign so ill-conceived that even its former supporters would now concede that it was, at the very least, a bit of a tactical boo-boo. 

One of the nicer aspects of life in a democracy is that we are afforded the freedom not just to voice our political views, but also to challenge the views of others. It goes without saying that fascism is a reprehensible ideology, but this is the internet, so I feel I should make my opposition to it clear before the comment box explodes. 

But when you’re talking about denying people jobs because of their political views, you have to wonder who exactly the fascist is. You don’t stop ugly political views by pretending they don’t exist. You defeat them with logic, you neutralise the arguments and then you present a political alternative that wins an election. The worst thing you can do is try to silence them.

Anyway, Di Canio has claimed that he has been misrepresented and, until such time that he seeks the bloody overthrow of South Tyneside council, perhaps we should give him the benefit of the doubt. 

Neverthless, he remains a very odd choice. The North-East is so devoutly left-wing that the Labour party could stick a red rosette on a garden gnome and it would still hold Miliband’s seat in the South Shields by-election with a comfortable majority. Putting a Daily Telegraph reader in charge of Sunderland would be risky. This is a step too far for a number of their supporters, evidenced by the removal of a historic banner by the Durham Miners’ Association.

But as we’ve seen recently, some football supporters tend to care less about a person’s politics if he aids their cause. Thaksin Shinawtra was welcomed at Manchester City despite Amnesty International’s allegations of human rights violations, specifically the alleged extrajudicial executions of small-time drug pushers, including women and children. But hey, he did spend a lot of money on new players. 

We’ve also seen recently that some football supporters will defend their heroes regardless of the evidence put in front of them. If a Premier League footballer was filmed marching into a cattery and gunning down a room full of kittens there would be video stills on Twitter ‘proving’ that the cats had fired first.

When the fuss dies down, Di Canio won’t be judged on his politics, he’ll be judged on results. So what evidence do we have that he’s the right man? He won League Two with Swindon Town, but if that’s enough then why wasn’t Martin Allen considered?

After all, he’s currently top of League Two with Gillingham. He also almost won the Conference with Barnet and twice took Brentford to the League One play-offs. He’s far more qualified. Former Southend United manager Steve Tilson took the Shrimpers up from League Two via the play-offs and then won League One the next season. I didn’t see him on the shortlist either.

I’m being facetious of course, but the fact is that Di Canio has been hired, not for his track record as a manager but for his reputation as, and we’ll be diplomatic here, a dynamic personality. He is a man so hot-headed that ex- Swindon chief executive Nick Watkins famously described his style as, “management by hand grenade.”

There will be Sunderland fans who are dismayed by the decision to hire a man with damaging political views and their protestations should be respected. What may prove more damaging in the long-term however, is the decision to hire a man so inexperienced and so blessed with the capacity for upsetting people. That’s the real issue at hand here, because the politics are obscuring the fact that this really isn’t a very sensible managerial appointment on any level. It’s a ‘hail mary’ pass and Paolo’s politics are the least of Sunderland’s problems. 

Read more from the majestic Iain Macintosh here