Sunderland boss Di Canio still can't avoid politics following debut defeat to Chelsea

Questions continue to be asked about his political views but Paolo Di Canio is staying tight-lipped. Photo: PA

Paolo Di Canio again refused to publicly explain his political views after suffering defeat on his debut as Sunderland manager, but insisted "as a person you don't change".

The build-up to Di Canio's first match as successor to Martin O'Neill was overshadowed by debate over the controversial Italian's character after his 2005 statement proclaiming to be a "fascist but not a racist".

Former foreign secretary David Miliband quit as vice-chairman following Di Canio's appointment and the former striker on Wednesday belatedly insisted he does not support "the ideology of fascism".

He could not prevent Sunderland's winless run extending to nine games as Chelsea won 2-1 at Stamford Bridge and declined to comment directly on his views in the post-match media conference.

Di Canio was more willing to elaborate when asked about his character in response to comments from his former team-mate David James, who wrote in The Observer today that the Italian was "unlikable".

"If I have to answer every comment it's difficult," Di Canio said.

"As a person you don't change, but you become an adult, you become a manager.

"You can also handle your nature because you know now you're not a footballer, now you have responsibility for many others.

"Obviously your nature never changes, but you can lead, you can guide because you know that you have to be careful sometimes when you do something.

"I don't think you are the same person than 20 years ago, 10 years ago.

"We all change. We maintain the principles of when we were growing up, but we change a bit as a man, now as a manager.

"I respect every opinion. Calling me someone who is good, someone who is bad, it's not an issue for me now.

"I don't want to comment on what the others said. I respect your job, my ex-team-mates and people that work in this environment, but I'm sure about myself.

"If I have to answer every comment it's difficult. I would have to stay here all day."

Di Canio earlier this week told reporters to question his former Charlton team-mate Chris Powell about his character, but the now Addicks boss did not give a ringing endorsement.

When asked about Powell, Di Canio said: "It doesn't mean nothing now."

He was then asked about the Durham Miners' decision to stay away from Sunderland matches in protest.

"Do you want to ask something about football?" said Di Canio, before the media conference was brought to a close.

Branislav Ivanovic's goal earned Chelsea a comeback win over Sunderland in Di Canio's first game. Credit: PA

Former managers, team-mates and opponents have praised Di Canio's character since his appointment, including Sir Alex Ferguson.

The Manchester United manager told United Review: "I must confess to a liking for the fellow and his approach to the game.

"He wears his heart on his sleeve and I like his football philosophy, wanting to play the ball on the ground rather than in the air."

Former goalkeeper Shaka Hislop, who played alongside him at Upton Park, this morning called for a clarification of his views. They were not forthcoming.

"Without any reservation I don't believe Paolo Di Canio is a racist," Hislop told BBC Radio 5 Live's Sportsweek programme.

"I say that because he's been a friend to me, not just offering me professional respect as a team-mate, but I also look at how he interacted with my wife and kids when they came around.

"I've never heard him speak any kind of political views or ever heard any hint of his thinking or ideology, not as a player."

But Hislop said he had been upset when Di Canio later moved to Lazio and gave an infamous Roman salute to the club's ultra fans.

"I have to say I was surprised and offended by it," the former Trinidad and Tobago international said.

"I want a proper explanation because I think there are wider implications to it.

"As much as fascism can have a moderate side, there is an extreme element and I would like to know if Paolo falls into that category. And if he doesn't, what was his salute all about?

"There is no place for extreme politics or extreme ideologies in football, regardless of what your beliefs might be.

"If they are extreme or on the fringe of what others might be that's where you have to draw the line."

While stating that he expects Sunderland to survive given the quality of their squad, Hislop also voiced concerns about Di Canio's temperament and how it may or may not be suited to top-flight management.

Describing the former striker as "toeing the line between genius and insanity", Hislop said the Italian was prone to "extreme reactions" to different situations that could sometimes blow them out of proportion.

James, Hislop's successor as first-choice goalkeeper at the Hammers while Di Canio was at Upton Park, claimed the Italian was unpopular with his team-mates as he "had a habit of behaving a bit like a dictator".

James said he never heard any hint of racism or politics from Di Canio while they played together but said his Roman salute at Lazio "confirmed my view of him as an unlikable person".

Di Canio, who was met warmly by Chelsea captain John Terry before kick-off, was given seven games to ensure Barclays Premier League survival.

Now he has six, with Sunderland winless in nine, after Cesar Azpilicueta's own goal was cancelled out by two goals in the opening 10 minutes of the second half to earn Chelsea victory.

Wigan's last-gasp draw at QPR means Sunderland are level with the Latics, one place above them in 17th place on goal difference having played a game more.