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Premier League

Paolo Di Canio offered to quit Sunderland in middle of fascism furore


Paolo Di Canio tears an imaginary bit of paper. It is the contract he had signed to become head coach of Sunderland. Di Canio does lots of things with his hands in the course of a conversation to amplify his words. He is talking about the third day of his reign as manager of Sunderland and about the offer of resignation he gave to Ellis Short, the owner of the club.

"I told him, 'Tell me what I have to do. Bye Bye. No problem, because I do not want to be a problem for the club'," says Di Canio. "'If I don't represent a problem for you I am OK, I am ready to handle the pressure. It is no pressure for me. All day rubbish me, I don't care. It is my life, but if you think 'mmm, probably yeah, I let you be free', I don't want nothing and I go.'"

Short was unmoved by the intensity of those first three days, when the Italian finally had to release a statement saying he did not support the ideology of fascism.

Di Canio continues. "He said, 'Absolutely, you have to stay. You are our man.' That for me was enough. Refocus. I will never forget what he did. He gave me a big chance of my dream to become manager at the top level. Next year I hope I can be here. You never know what is going on in life.

"In this moment, he did not give up, he gave me 100 per cent, 200 per cent support. He convinced me to stay because he said you are our man. He is the owner, he picked me. I can't forget for the rest of my life, no matter what happens in the future."

Since Di Canio took charge, Sunderland have scored three goals in victory against Newcastle on two occasions, famously in the Premier League at St James' Park, less so in under-16 football at the Academy of Light. Short watched only one of those games, and it is revealing that it was the latter. He is a regular at junior level and wants more home-grown players to emerge.

The hedge-fund venture capitalist will have been in sole charge of Sunderland for four years later this month. He was first sounded out by the former chairman Niall Quinn at the Ryder Cup in 2006 about possibly investing. In 2008 he bought a 30 per cent stake from the Drumaville Consortium and a year later took control. Last year Quinn left citing business interests, but it is understood there was tension between the two men.

Now it is Short's club and every level of it is under scrutiny. Bryan "Pop" Robson and his scouting team left earlier this month. Roberto De Fanti, a Fifa-registered agent, has become key to a new policy in the transfer market and is likely to become the director of football in the summer – a position that Short believes will work better than the previous recruitment policy.

Following victory against Everton in April, Short drank at a bar in the city centre, before leaving a hefty tip after a curry. His profile is rising. Di Canio must give him a Premier League club with which to rebuild.

"I don't want to even think about relegation," adds Di Canio. "It was obvious when I came here it was because I thought I could keep this club up, so if we go down it means I've failed my mission.

"I was relegated at West Ham. I never imagined I would have a moment like that with so many talented players. I was devastated for everyone but some of the players did not care.

"Am I looking long-term? I'm looking at the next game but longer term I'm looking to change the mentality. If we go to Man United we go to win. If we lose three-nil that's OK? No! Otherwise you're never going to change. Even if we lose one-nil I want to scare them. I want to feel we're a good team with a positive mentality. Be careful, no. Do it! Not be careful!"

Sunderland v Southampton is today, kick-off 3pm