Oh the hypocrisy of the Left. It was OK for Paolo Di Canio to play for Sheffield Wednesday, Celtic, West Ham and Charlton. It was OK for him to manage little old Swindon Town in League One, but oh no, the thought of him managing Premier League Sunderland is repellent. No, I’ll tell you what is repellent – it’s the so-called ‘liberal left’ deciding who should do what based on whether someone conforms to their own idea of normality or political acceptability. And then, only deciding to enforce their own illiberal ideas when it suits them. Where were the howls of indignation when Di Canio took over at Swindon Town? No one cared, because, well, it was only little old Swindon, wasn’t it?
Only it’s not anymore. Its Sunderland. Big old Premier League Sunderland. And poor ‘ickle’ David Miliband has spat out his dummy and resigned as Board adviser. I’m not surprised. He was paid £75k a year for offering advice, and if the Board asked him for his advice on their new manager, they clearly ignored it. His friends are pointing out that Miliband resigned because his parents were Jews who fled the Nazis. He issued a statement which said…
“In the light of the new manager’s past political statements, I think it right to step down.”
I wonder how much time David Miliband invested in actually researching what Paolo Di Canio believes. Did he actually look beyond the headlines, or did he just write it in blind acceptance that Di Canio believes what he thinks he does? I don’t know if Paolo Di Canio is a Fascist or not, but surely David Miliband understands there are some very marked differences between Fascism and National Socialism. That does not mean that I have any sympathy with anyone who has Fascist leanings, I do not. I regard the ideology as politically repugnant and morally abhorrent. I wouldn’t vote for a political candidate with Fascist leanings, but we’re not talking about an election here, we’re talking about football.
I’d like to think David Miliband might have taken some notice of people who know Di Canio, people who count him as friends. Like Trevor Sinclair and Chris Powell. Like the respected football writer Gabriele Marcotti. He told 5 Live: “I’ve known him very well for the last 15 years. There’s no question that he’s not a racist. His record, his friendships, his relationships pretty much speak for themselves. Marcotti is not some cheap tabloid journalist looking for a headline. He is a serious writer.
Di Canio’s former chairman at Swindon commented today…
“It is a sad knee-jerk response. I doubt David Miliband has ever met Paolo Di Canio. I’ve known him for two years. I don’t think politics was ever discussed once. Paolo will have many strong views. He probably has a strong view on whether Italy should be in the Euro, gay marriage or the endangered Siberian tiger, but I doubt if it’s really relevant to keeping Sunderland in the Premiership. I think anybody’s political views and their private views – as long they’re private and how they conduct themselves away from their job – are pretty irrelevant. Nothing of that was ever discussed during his time at Swindon. He was focused on success for us and that’s what he’ll do for Sunderland.”
Di Canio himself has released THIS statement, defending himself against accusations of political extremism. Here’s an extract…
“I don’t have a problem with anyone. I haven’t had a problem in the past and I don’t know why I have to keep repeating my story, to be defending myself on something that doesn’t belong to me every time I change clubs. “Talk about racism? That is absolutely stupid, stupid and ridiculous. The people who know me can change that idea quickly. When I was in England my best friends were Trevor Sinclair and Chris Powell, the Charlton manager – they can tell you everything about my character. “I don’t want to talk about politics because it’s not my area. We are not in the Houses of Parliament, we are in a football club. I want to talk about sport. I want to talk about football, my players, the Board and the fans. My first priority is my family and my daughters, that’s obvious, and secondly to have the responsibility for thousands of people. This is my priority and I want to be focused on this aspect. I don’t want to talk any more about politics – I am not a politics person.”
Let’s cut out the moralistic crap we’ve heard today from Dan Hodges and others. It’s the politics of the student union to talk about ‘boycotting’ Sunderland. Especially if you’re not a Sunderland supporter. If I were a Man U supporter, would I boycott them because their manager is a devout left wing Socialist? Of course not. Would I boycott West Ham if they appointed a Chinese Communist as manager? No. Because the club is always bigger than any manager or player.
Paolo Di Canio is the greatest player I have ever seen in a West Ham shirt. Some of his goals for the Hammers were truly breathtaking. He was an inspiration. When he comes back to Upton Park nowadays and is spotted in a corporate box, the crowd chant his name to the tune of Rigoletto. He will always be a bit of a hero to us at West Ham. Many would happily have him back as manager if Sam Allardyce comes to grief.
Sunderland fans have every right to question Di Canio’s qualifications to manage their club. He did very well at Swindon but his methods were, shall we say, unconventional. They were methods which may have been acceptable in a League One club, but time will tell how they translate to the Premier League. If West Ham had been in Sunderland’s position – and they very nearly appointed Martin O’Neill two years ago – would I have wanted West Ham to appoint di Canio? The truth is, no I wouldn’t. He would be too much of a risk. But it would have nothing to do with his political views (even if we were certain as to what they were), it would be because of his managerial unpredictability.