Harry Redknapp, the Queen's Park Rangers manager, said last night that political criticisms of the appointment of Paolo Di Canio as Sunderland head coach were rooted in double standards.
Di Canio, who takes charge of his new club for the first time at Chelsea tomorrow, was manager of Swindon Town for nearly two years without facing the same storm that has engulfed his new club since he replaced Martin O'Neill last weekend, Redknapp said.
"Where was all this talk when he was at Swindon?" asked Redknapp, who managed Di Canio at West Ham United. "I didn't see any talk about him being a fascist then, so why has it suddenly come out now he's gone to Sunderland? If it's upsetting everyone so much, why didn't they write about it when he went to Swindon?"
Redknapp admitted he did not know precisely what a fascist was, but was sure that Di Canio was not a bigot. "I don't know what Paolo's beliefs really are," Redknapp said. "He's not a racist, that's for sure. I've never discussed anything like that with him. I honestly didn't know he had views that were different or that he supported this party or the other."
Redknapp, though, does believe Di Canio will make a good manager. "He's off-the-wall but he's a great trainer, super-fit. I heard the manager of Swindon the other day saying he can't believe how fit the players are. I can believe that with Paolo. He's volatile but he's enthusiastic and you want enthusiastic people around you in life. And he's hoping it will rub off on the players and they will become more enthusiastic. The crowd when they win will; he'll give it plenty and maybe they'll respond to it. It will be interesting."
John Terry, the Chelsea captain, is another who is firmly in the Di Canio fan club. "I can only speak highly of him," Terry said. "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. 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."
And on facing Di Canio's side in the Italian's first game in charge at Stamford Bridge tomorrow, Terry added: "It's going to be really tough. He's 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."
Di Canio himself "can't wait" to make his Premier League bow in the dugout at Stamford Bridge.
"Chelsea at Stamford Bridge – what can you say?" he said. "I can't wait for it and I expect the same desire and determination from my players to make sure they do a good job. To go to Stamford Bridge and make a big impact – we always have to remember that the main protagonists are the players, but with my help and my staff's help we can go there and get a result.
"As a manager it is my first time at the top, I mean the very top level. We are away from home against Chelsea, where obviously I have good memories and scored when I was a footballer. But I'm not a footballer now, I'm a manager and now I hope my players will score there and give us some points.
"It's fantastic. The players will be motivated on their own; they live to play on the big stage. Obviously we are going to give them extra motivation to try to get a very good result."
Meanwhile, O'Neill has admitted he feels "frustrated", if not shocked, at being given the sack. He said: "Coming into the football club at the time when the club was on its knees, and I believe I saved the club from relegation last year, I felt the opportunity [to stay at the club] should have still been afforded to me.
"I'm in the business now where I think very little shocks you about professional football, especially in the last 10 years. You can lose a job in management if your tie doesn't fit your suit."