Chelsea captain John Terry has praised the character of Paolo Di Canio as the controversial Italian prepares to make his Sunderland management debut at Stamford Bridge on Sunday.
Di Canio's appointment as successor to Martin O'Neill has been the subject of much conjecture this week, with former foreign secretary David Miliband quitting as vice-chairman of Sunderland over the 44-year-old's past statements professing to be a "fascist but not a racist".
Di Canio on Wednesday insisted he does not support "the ideology of fascism" as he seeks to mastermind Sunderland's Barclays Premier League survival.
That quest begins against on Sunday against Chelsea.
"I can only speak highly of him (Di Canio)," Terry told the London Evening Standard.
"I played against him when he was at Charlton. His movement was fantastic and I found he was just a real nice guy on the pitch.
"I was only young at the time when I was playing against him when he was at West Ham and sides like that.
"He always spoke to me after games and said 'listen, maybe you should do this and do that' which was really nice at the time.
"A two-word sentence was enough and something I learned from.
"He always gave a battle. If there was a little tussle he'd get up and shake your hand after and that kind of thing.
"So very fair, very passionate, as we've seen with his character, and his ability was fantastic. He was a credit."
Terry, who was not asked directly about Di Canio's views, did not expect Sunderland to be fighting for their safety and anticipates the Italian's arrival to galvanise the Black Cats.
"It's going to be really tough," Terry added.
"A new manager has come in, a fantastic player he was as well. He's certainly going to have them up for it.
"You could see how well organised Swindon were over the short period of time he was there.
"He's told them 'tell your wives and your families it's going to be a lot of long days and hard work'. I think that's what they need.
"It's surprising to see them down there, when we've seen them fight for so many years.
"They'll certainly be fighting and coming here hoping to pick up something."
While Sunderland have been embroiled in off-field issues this week, Chelsea have performed well on it.
Terry has told his side to focus on securing a place in the Premier League's top four after moving on the verge of a second knockout semi-final in the space of four days.
After the Easter Monday defeat of Manchester United set up a Wembley FA Cup semi-final with Manchester City, last season's Champions League winners beat Rubin Kazan 3-1 in the Europa League quarter-final to take a commanding lead into next week's second leg in Moscow.
Terry was an unused substitute against United after featuring in the loss at Southampton fewer than 48 hours earlier when the Blues slipped to fourth in the Premier League.
He has now urged his troops to claim a third successive Stamford Bridge win on Sunday to consolidate their place in a Champions League qualifying spot.
"We must win and keep winning games in the league and really push," Terry said.
"Because that is what this club feeds off - the Champions League. We must be involved in that."
Defeat at St Mary's Stadium saw Chelsea slip back from third place, two points behind Tottenham, but with a game in-hand, while Arsenal are two points behind the Blues in fifth.
The London derby between Chelsea and Spurs has been rearranged due to a clash with the FA Cup semi-final on Sunday week and when it takes place it could now effectively be a play-off for third place and an automatic spot in the Champions League. The fourth-placed side will have to negotiate qualifying, with the fifth in the Europa League.
Terry may return to the bench for Chelsea's fourth game in nine days after conceding a penalty against Rubin Kazan.
Despite Fernando Torres' double, the away goal increases the anxiety as Chelsea bid to seal their last-four place in the Europa League next week in Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium, scene of their 2008 Champions League final penalty shootout defeat to Manchester United, when Terry missed a penalty.
Victor Moses, who scored Chelsea's second, told the club's official website: "It wasn't an easy game but I think 3-1 was a fair result and now we can look forward to the second leg.
"The most important thing is to win games, we've got quality players and hopefully we'll be good enough to win the competition."
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