Paolo Di Canio can halt Black Cats' relegation march, says John Terry
Chelsea skipper is convinced Sunderland's new controversial coach will make an instant impact as Italian brings his side to Stamford Bridge
Chelsea captain John Terry has backed Paolo Di Canio to revive Sunderland as the controversial Italian prepares to take charge of his struggling side for the first time at Stamford Bridge today.
Di Canio's arrival on Wearside as successor to the sacked Martin O'Neill triggered a storm of negative headlines about the Italian's notorious political views.
His support for right-wing extremism, summed up by his declaration in 2005 that he was a fascist, but not a racist, did not go down well among sections of the Sunderland fan base and convinced the club's vice-chairman, David Miliband, to resign in protest.
As well as fending off searching questions about his politics, Di Canio has also had to deal with accusations that his volatile personality and lack of experience as a top-flight manager make his appointment a massive gamble by Black Cats owner Ellis Short.
Di Canio has just seven games to save Sunderland from relegation. And making the task even harder, his team, only one point and two places above the bottom three, face Chelsea, Newcastle and Everton in their next three matches.
But Terry, a man who is no stranger to controversy himself, has fond memories of Di Canio and is convinced the former Lazio, West Ham and Celtic forward will make an instant impact.
"He was just a really nice guy on the pitch and I spoke to him after games," Terry said. "He said to me, 'Maybe you should do this and do that', which was really nice at the time.
"There were things, like when he made certain movements he said maybe I should have been tighter. I was only young at the time and from an opposition player it was quite nice. A two-word sentence was enough and something I learned from.
"He would always give a battle and if there was a little tussle he would get up and shake your hand afterwards. He was fair and very passionate, as we've seen with his character. His ability was fantastic and he was a really tough player to play against. I can only speak highly of him."
Terry expects Di Canio to thrive at Sunderland, having propelled Swindon from League Two to the brink of a return to the second-tier before resigning in frustration at the club's financial problems earlier this season.
"He will show passion," Terry said. "I have read a few things, that he has told them - 'tell your wives and families there are going to be a lot of long days and hard work' - and that's what they need. They will certainly be fighting and they will be coming here hoping to pick up something."
Sunderland arrive in west London on a run of eight games without a win, but Di Canio, never short of self-belief, is relishing the chance to stun the Blues.
"We're playing Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in my first game. What can you say? I can't wait to get started," he said. "As a manager it is my first time at the top, I mean the very top level. It's fantastic. We always have to remember that the main protagonists are the players, but with my help and my staff's help we can go there and get a result."
Unfortunately for Di Canio, his first game has coincided with a minor revival from Chelsea, who have recovered from last weekend's defeat at Southampton by beating Manchester United in the FA Cup and Rubin Kazan in the Europa League.
Even so, Terry knows Rafael Benitez's fourth-placed side cannot afford to drop any more points as Arsenal are two points behind them in the race to qualify for the Champions League.
"We must win and keep winning games in the league and really push," Terry said. "Because that is what this club feeds off - the Champions League. We must be involved in that."