Sunderland chairman backs Di Canio to keep club up

Paolo Di Canio inherits a Sunderland side that is winless in eight games. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Wire

Paolo Di Canio will today begin the task of trying to keep Sunderland in the Barclays Premier League following his appointment as head coach late last night.

Sunderland confirmed the Italian as Martin O'Neill's successor after agreeing a two-and-a-half year deal.

O'Neill was sacked following the Black Cats' 1-0 loss to Manchester United on Saturday - a result that left them just a point above the drop zone.

Di Canio's immediate objective will be to revitalise a squad for a seven-game run-in which will determine where the Black Cats will play their football next season.

They are currently winless in eight games and were last week dealt a major blow when leading goalscorer Steven Fletcher was ruled out for the season.

And while Di Canio has no managerial experience in the Premier League chairman Ellis Short believes he is the man to save Sunderland from the drop.

"Paolo is hugely enthused by the challenge that lies ahead of him. He is passionate, driven and raring to get started," he said in a statement on the club's official website.

"The sole focus of everyone for the next seven games will be to ensure we gain enough points to maintain our top-flight status.

"I think that the chances of that are greatly increased with Paolo joining us.

"Our fans have shown tremendous patience and understanding this season. They have continued to back the team in huge numbers, both home and away, and that is something that continues to inspire all of us in our drive to give them the successful club they deserve.

"That remains our primary aim."

Di Canio's appointment would undoubtedly represent a gamble for Sunderland given his volatile nature and his lack of top-level experience.

The 44-year-old's only managerial role was during a tumultuous 18-month spell at League One Swindon, which was highlighted by winning promotion in his first season.

His reign was, however, also marked by occasional outbursts against his players before his sudden departure in February when he cited "broken promises" from the Swindon board as the reason for his exit.

Already Di Canio's arrival in the north east has caused some controversy with former foreign secretary David Miliband immediately resigning from his post as as vice-chairman and non-executive director due to the Italian's "past political statements".

Miliband said on "I wish Sunderland AFC all success in the future. It is a great institution that does a huge amount for the north east and I wish the team very well over the next vital seven games.

"However, in the light of the new manager's past political statements, I think it right to step down."

Di Canio has admitted to having fascist leanings, telling Italian news agency ANSA in 2005: "I am a fascist, not a racist."

Di Canio will have six days to prepare for his first game against European champions Chelsea at Stamford Bridge next Sunday before the Tyne-Wear derby against fierce rivals Newcastle.