Paolo Di Canio plans to get jump on Newcastle
Italian hopes dust will settle on his controversial appointment but for now a potentially incendiary Tyne-Wear clash awaits
On the wall in Paolo Di Canio's office at the Academy of Light, Sunderland's training ground, is a framed letter from Sir Alex Ferguson, congratulating him on his achievements during his first season in charge at Swindon. It has pride of place.
On his desk are an assortment of letters from Sunderland supporters welcoming his appointment, explaining their devotion to the club, admiring his passion, setting out what is expected of him. He talks openly of the angels at the club who have tried to protect him in the period since he succeeded Martin O'Neill.
Protecting Di Canio and motivating him had not previously seemed necessary, but the storm the 44-year-old Italian has walked through has been more severe than any had predicted. His two daughters, he reveals, have also suffered.
It is Thursday. The Tyne-Wear derby, when Di Canio's Sunderland career will really begin, is three days away. He has made more bold predictions, about toppling Newcastle, about being a stallion, and it is only later, as the front slips, that he offers what seems a fairly heartfelt apology to those at the football club who have had to deal with the chaotic fallout from his appointment as head coach.
"I will thank them for the rest of my life, because what we had was not a normal change of management," he says. "The first few days were absolute madness for this club, but they were straight. They said, 'We know who we know, and we know Paolo Di Canio also and we will defend him.' That was crucial. This support that I received from the board, from the chairman, Mr [Ellis] Short, and the chief executive, Margaret Byrne, showed I am in good hands. They are my bodyguards.
"I was sad for the club, and obviously for my family, especially for my daughters. The oldest one goes to Southampton University and people were knocking on her door. I don't know how they found out where she lived. My little one, who is 15, goes to a British school in Rome. It is for them that I feel sad. I couldn't understand how it caused a problem for them.
"The players are crucial to get results and they responded very well, and that was a good foundation for me. They may have been upset by the change [of management] so it was a positive for me but, more importantly for me, I have to say thanks to everyone."
From that start to a Tyne-Wear derby. "The rivalry is very intense," he says. "At the hotel the other day, there was a young guy who was there working and he saw me and my staff walk out of the hotel and he called, 'Paolo, Paolo'.
"I don't want to repeat what he said, but he pulled up his trouser leg and showed a Sunderland tattoo. I said we will do the right job and make sure that the fans will be proud, because we know it's a massive, massive game.
"It's important that we celebrate at the end of the game and maybe I'm going to celebrate more than them. My nature is to jump with them with my scarf, not because I want their love, but because I know how they feel. I was a fan like them. I used to go away from home everywhere, on the terraces with the fans and singing.'
Di Canio was in his office, three days after his appointment, when he overheard a meeting of the Sunderland Supporters' Association in a nearby room. It had been planned before the managerial change.
"He left his office and met George Foster, the 86-year-old group's chairman, who led a chorus of approval over his arrival. A change to the narrative. He hugged Foster. "I will play you up front George," said Di Canio. "With your passion, we will be fine."
Even by Di Canio's standards, he has had two exhausting weeks. Newcastle's supporters were being warned on Friday morning on local television that they would risk arrest if they were caught mimicking racist or fascist salutes.
Di Canio himself had already been warned as to his touchline behaviour [Alan Pardew and O'Neill had clashed on the touchline at the same fixture last season]. "It would be more convenient for him if he didn't come [into Di Canio's technical area], to be honest. No, I'm joking!
"I don't know what happened. I know it was a very hard derby. There was a very rash moment, but we know that can happen. We have to make sure it will be a derby with fire, but everybody has to behave.''
Within this maelstrom for Di Canio is the desire to be accepted as a good manager. He spoke with pride of the letter that hangs on his wall.
"Fergie was good to me when I won the title last year," he says. "He sent me a letter. He said, 'I like your philosophy. Keep going, this sort of play is the future of football.' It was signed by him. Beautiful."
Alan Pardew calling for clash-free day
Alan Pardew had said it is essential that he and Paolo Di Canio do not clash during the Newcastle-Sunderland derby at St James' Park today.
The two clubs were fined £60,000 for their behaviour in the corresponding fixture last season, when the two benches became involved in a heated row during the volatile game.
"We both have got responsibilities to conduct ourselves in the right way," said Pardew. "He's quite right when he says he needs to stay in his box. He says I've got to stay in mine, I'm happy with that, let's hope that's the case.
"He lives and breathes the game and he loves it. That love of the game comes through and you need to channel it in the right way, and find a way to channel it and get your enthusiasm into the players."
Newcastle v Sunderland is on Sky Sports 1 today, kick-off 12pm
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