x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

'Mad Italian' Paolo Di Canio looks for fight from Sunderland players in survival battle

The new Sunderland head coach says he would have 'swam to the club' to get the job after Martin O'Neill's dismissal, despite the controversy surrounding his appointment at the Stadium of Light.

New Sunderland head coach Paolo Di Canio at the club's training centre.
New Sunderland head coach Paolo Di Canio at the club's training centre.

Paolo Di Canio admits he expected his appointment as Sunderland's new head coach to be controversial - but insists he would have 'swam to the club' to take up the post.

The 44-year-old faced the media for the first time as the struggling English Premier League side's new coach following his appointment on Sunday night.

His appointment has sparked controversy, with the club's vice chairman David Miliband quitting because of comments made by Di Canio eight years ago saying he was a fascist.

But while looking to steer coverage away from his political views, the new Sunderland coach admitted he expected the appointment to make headlines.

"I was prepared for the interest, not because it is Paolo Di Canio but because of the change at the club," he said

"When I got the call from (chairman) Ellis Short, I felt fire in my belly. I would have swam to Sunderland to take the job," he added.

"The press like to call me the mad Italian, but I would confidently bet everything I have on Sunderland remaining in the top flight."

The former Lazio, Celtic and West Ham United striker, who was also once banned for giving a raised-arm salute to hardcore fans of the Rome club, responded to questions about any fascist leanings by answering: "I don't have to answer that anymore.

"There was a very good statement from the club, very, very clear words that came from me. I don't want to talk anymore about politics. We're not in the Houses of Parliament. I'm not a political person.

"I only want to talk about football... In 45 years, I've never had a problem with anyone."

The former Swindon Town manager, who quit in February, said he wanted to bring passion back to the club in their battle to avoid relegation.

It's better to have 15 players ready for the fight than 25 players that are completely lazy," he said.

"It would be better to find a different situation but I think I have enough quality to work with."

Defeat to Manchester United on Saturday prompted Sunderland to oust O'Neill.

Sunderland owner Ellis Short approached the former West Ham striker after dispensing of the services of O'Neill on Saturday and Di Canio thought the American businessman was initially jokingwhen he called him.

"Late in the afternoon after the Manchester (United) game, I received a phone call and I was surprised because many times it was happened that a manager was sacked and my name, Di Canio, was 5-1 odds," he said.

"When I received the phone call from Mr Short, I thought it was a joke and I was ready to say a bad word - I thought it was a friend and I would have lost my job!

"But it was a big surprise and I had the fire in my stomach. I said yes after a second and I said I come by swim, no problem."

In 16th place in the table and without a win in eight games, they have only seven matches remaining to pull away from danger but Di Canio is confident, despite his lack of top flight experience, th side cans survive.

"It is obvious that in the past people have been sceptical because it was my first job as Swindon, League Two, League One, the mad Italian, he will fight his players, but at the end I won the league," he said.

"I am young, people say the same, I have no experience in the Premiership but I am not worried."

Di Canio revealed he met his new players for the first time yesterday as he started preparations for a meeting with Chelsea this weekend and he claims to have found some areas that need care and attention already.

"I saw curiosity, enthusiasm, the first day was very good," he added.

"We finished at 4 in the night with my staff. It is obvious that some players miss some strength, physical condition, some are down in terms of confidence. We need to cope with several situations. It's obvious that it is not the moment to make a big revolution because we are too close to the end of the season.

"But we have a plan to put in the mix because the brain is crucial."

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