David Miliband resigns from Sunderland board after Di Canio is hired

South Shields MP cites 'past political statements' of manager who once claimed to be a 'fascist'

David Miliband last night quit as vice-chairman of Sunderland FC after the Italian Paolo Di Canio, who made Nazi-style salutes on the pitch when a player, was appointed the team's manager.

The former foreign secretary had said he would stay on at the Premier League club after stepping down as South Shields' MP last week to take up a new role as head of the International Rescue Committee, a global-aid organisation based in the United States.

But yesterday, as Di Canio's appointment was announced, Mr Miliband said he was resigning as vice-chairman and non-executive director because of the new manager's "past political statements". In 2005, Di Canio three times extended a Nazi-style salute to his Lazio teammates. He was banned for one game and fined about £7,000 by the Italian football authorities. He defended his actions by saying: "I am a fascist, not a racist."

Lazio was the fascist Italian leader Benito Mussolini's preferred club and, in his memoirs, Di Canio defended Il Duce as "basically a very principled, ethical individual" who was "deeply misunderstood". He has a tattoo that says "Dux" on his bicep, which is a Latinised spelling of "Duce".

Mr Miliband said in a statement: "I wish Sunderland AFC all success in the future. It is a great institution that does a huge amount for the North-east and I wish the team very well over the next vital seven games.

"However, in the light of the new manager's past political statements, I think it right to step down."

Mr Miliband joined the Sunderland board in 2011 having retired from frontline politics after losing the Labour leadership race to his brother, Ed.

Di Canio, 44, was signed on a two-and-a-half-year deal yesterday to replace Martin O'Neill, who was sacked in the wake of the Black Cats' 1-0 defeat to Manchester United on Saturday.

He entered football management in 2011, taking charge of Swindon Town, a club he quit in February.

As a player he made more than 500 appearances, scoring more than 100 goals. In Italy he played for Lazio, Juventus, Napoli and AC Milan before making a move to Celtic. He went on to play for Premiership clubs Sheffield Wednesday, West Ham United and Charlton Athletic.

Sunderland owner and chairman Ellis Short said Di Canio was "passionate, driven and raring to get started".

"The sole focus of everyone for the next seven games will be to ensure we gain enough points to maintain our top-flight status," he added. "I think that the chances of that are greatly increased with Paolo joining us.

"Our fans have shown tremendous patience and understanding this season. They have continued to back the team in huge numbers, both home and away, and that is something that continues to inspire all of us in our drive to give them the successful club they deserve. That remains our primary aim."

There was no statement from the club last night on Mr Miliband's resignation from Sunderland.

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