Sunderland's Di Canio vows to keep cool as pressure mounts
Paolo Di Canio vowed to keep his volatile temper under control after the controversial Italian’s debut as Sunderland manager ended in a frustrating 2-1 defeat against Chelsea.
Di Canio’s two-year spell in charge at Swindon was described as “management by hand grenade” by the club’s former chairman and his reign with the Black Cats has the potential to be equally explosive.
The notoriously temperamental Di Canio not only has to cope with the tension of a Premier League relegation battle, but also seemed destined to be plagued by questions about his support for fascism.
The former Lazio and West Ham striker was confronted with more inquiries about his politics at the post-match press conference after Sunday’s loss at Stamford Bridge.
But Di Canio refused to answer the questions and beat a hasty retreat before the interrogation could go any further.
He was more sanguine on the touchline as Sunderland squandered a first half lead given to them by Cesar Azpilicueta’s own goal.
An own goal from Sunderland’s Matthew Kilgallon was followed by Branislav Ivanovic’s deflected winner, yet Di Canio kept his cool and he believes that attitude will be crucial if his team are to avoid relegation.
“When you are a manager you know you have responsibility for many others. You have to be careful sometimes,” Di Canio said.
“We all change, you are not the same as you were 20 years ago. When you are a manager you like to have respect from others but you can’t make everybody happy.”
Sunderland, above the relegation zone only on goal difference, are now without a win in nine matches and they looked desperately short of attacking inspiration against Chelsea.
Di Canio acknowledged his players struggled at times, but he made it clear he believes he can inspire them to beat the drop.
“You cannot say we play against Accrington. We are playing against top players in the world,” he said.
“At Swindon I used to prepare only to win, but now it is different, you have to prepare for the other team as well. That can be a big change but when you are a very good manager like me you will adapt.
“Some of the players told me what we did in the last few days is fantastic and what they needed.”
Asked if the relegation fight will go down to the wire, Di Canio added: “I hope not, but probably every week it will change because Stoke now are involved completely.
“Every week it can change, the situation. I think it will for everybody, Aston Villa, us, Wigan and Stoke.”
Di Canio’s presence meant Chelsea’s interim manager Rafael Benitez was able to enjoy a rare afternoon out of the spotlight and the Spaniard cut a more relaxed figure than usual after his side’s third successive win.
In the space of seven days the Blues have knocked Manchester United out of the FA Cup, secured a 3-1 lead over Rubin Kazan in the Europa League quarter-finals and reclaimed third place in the Premier League.
And while Benitez is unlikely to win over Chelsea’s supporters, he believes the upbeat mood will help his team’s bid for a successful end to a frustrating season.
“The support of everyone sticking together and pushing in the same direction has helped,” Benitez said.
“I try to concentrate on my job but the feeling is that everyone has realised we have to support the team. That is the best way.”
The only concern for Benitez was an ankle injury suffered by Demba Ba that forced the Senegal striker to come off at half-time.
If Ba is sidelined, Benitez can at least take heart the form of Spanish striker Fernando Torres, who followed his two-goal heroics against Kazan by coming off the bench to inspire Chelsea’s comeback on Sunday.
“I said before these games he was training well and working hard,” Benitez said.
“When he scored against Kazan he had more confidence. You could see he was fresh. He gives us another option.”