Defiant Sunderland manager Paolo Di Canio jokes he's 'the unique one'

Martin Hardy witnesses controversial Italian's first press conference as Sunderland manager which is part bravura, part self-defence

At half past six this morning, snow fell at Sunderland's training ground. By half past seven, a glorious sunrise was bathing Cleadon village, where the Academy of Light stands. To that backdrop arrived Paolo Di Canio, along with assistant manager Fabrizio Piccareta, in a black Ford Focus. The rest of his back-room staff, Domenico Doardo, Claudio Donatelli and Giulio Viscardi, were in the car behind. The five men were waved through the security gate that stands at the training ground entrance. Cold and warmth. Winter and summer. A barrier and an entrance. Polarisation. It felt appropriate. "I love the British weather because it is so unpredictable," Di Canio once said. "It is beautiful, it can change at any one moment. I enjoy clouds." He will enjoy the North-east, then, where it varies between cold and really cold.

"The new head coach will be available for a brief introductory media opportunity," had read an email sent out by Sunderland on Monday evening, by which time there was already turmoil. Anti-racist groups around Europe had asked for clarification of comments previously made by Di Canio in support of fascism. Durham Miners Association had released a statement saying they wanted their banner, which adorns a wall inside a stadium whose name is a tribute to the mining industry, removed.

At 10 past eight this morning Di Canio made his media bow as Sunderland's new manager, first to the written press. At 10 to 10, he was still forcibly reassuring local journalists that he was the man to save the team from relegation. But he declined to answer questions relating to fascism. When he later went in front of the TV cameras, he was asked again about it, specifically to retract a reported statement from a 2005 interview that he was a "fascist but not a racist", something he says was taken out of context. But the rebuttal did not come. With the offer still hanging uncomfortably in midair, Di Canio walked out. His conversation with the written media ended the same, but there had been much to digest before that point.

"Are you, like Jose Mourinho, the special one?" he was asked, and with a mischievous smile, replied: "I am the unique one. I am joking, actually I'm not. We are all different, but it's obvious that some traits of our characters are similar. I always speak what I think. Sometimes I have a strategy. Sometimes in the past people have said that my press conferences after the game come from my rash moments, but that's only because of the things I have said before. Maybe we were giving out specific messages to get certain things out of people.

"I remember that media in England were very enthusiastic about him because people like Mourinho give you the chance to always get a big headline, but also many, people said he was arrogant. He has a very high belief in himself, but that is all and perhaps I am similar. I believe in my knowledge and myself. I am confident I can deliver the best job for this club. It is obvious that I'm not trying to imitate him because I'm Paolo Di Canio."

And there is no doubting his self-confidence. "Paolo Di Canio is young," he added. "He has only been in League One and Two, but over the next few games they are going to change their ideas because the team will win and get themselves out of the situation at the moment.

"Then they will say Paolo Di Canio is the best manager we could have. It was the same issues 21 months ago at Swindon, but after two months they were remaining five minutes after the game to celebrate a victory. They were singing the names of the players and manager. They will do the same here. I will bet all I have got I have a winning mentality."

However, Sunderland, from boardroom level down, have been taken aback by the level of hostility to the appointment.

Di Canio was asked if he would meet the miners who want their banner back. "I don't understand what the problems are," he added. "I am a manager, a normal man, a family man. I will work so hard for this cause. I will work 24 hours a day."

But he took a shot at David Miliband, who resigned from the Sunderland board because of Di Canio's "past political statements".

"He has probably left in a period where we will have the most success. I am sorry for him," was the Italian's response.

Some of the anger will dissipate if Di Canio's energy seeps into the tepid veins of his players who sit just one point above the Premier League relegation places. And certainly, he talked more happily of "kicking my player's bottoms" if they need physical motivation. "If one of my players behaves really well until a day before the game and is really focused, with a very high determination, then he will start. I like to be with my players every single minute on the training field. If you do that you can realise something has happened in the last few hours to change things."

Certainly, things have changed at Sunderland, who perhaps will never be the same football club again. Because despite Di Canio's attempts to steer the conversation towards football matters, he could not escape being repeatedly asked if he is a fascist.

"I don't have to answer this any more," he said. "I can't state every three weeks or three months. So 21 months ago, some of you picked up some lines from a long interview. You are not offending me, but you are offending my family. I do not permit anyone to offend the values I have received from my parents. If you want to talk about football then we can start to work."

And, after the flashing lights of the cameras had faded, that was what he did, as he entered the manager's changing room at the back of the Academy of Light and emerged wearing shorts and a blue club top to take his first training session.

There was no snow anymore, which after the blizzard of questions he had just faced, was a start.

Suggested Topics
Sport
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during Barcelona training in August
footballPete Jenson co-ghost wrote Suarez’s autobiography and reveals how desperate he's been to return
News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
Voices
Hunted: A stag lies dead on Jura, where David Cameron holidays and has himself stalked deer
voicesThe Scotland I know is becoming a playground for the rich
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
newsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
News
Laurence Easeman and Russell Brand
people
Sport
Fans of Dulwich Hamlet FC at their ground Champion Hill
footballFans are rejecting the £2,000 season tickets, officious stewarding, and airline-stadium sponsorship
News
Shami Chakrabarti
people
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites Star Wars 7 rumours
Sport
football
News
news
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker