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."

Martin Hardy

Newcastle v Sunderland is on Sky Sports 1 today, kick-off 12pm

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
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

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links