Sunderland fans would have undoubtedly dreamt of the day when their club would manage to outshine a Champions League quarter final in terms of importance. The Black Cats pipped Messi & Becks to yesterday’s back pages for the wrong reasons, just as they had done the three days before that, ever since the appointment of Paolo Di Canio caused a minor stir that registered as a major tremor on the social media Richter scale.
The story has now veered so much off course that one could be forgiven for forgetting that, from a purely practical point of view, the Wearside club have taken a huge leap of faith and appointed a manager bereft of Premier League experience in the hope to avoid relegation.
Had the manager been just a football manager, Sunderland’s decision would have been analysed in a couple of hours and put to bed until next Sunday, when the Wearsiders travel to Stamford Bridge and football would have been the focus.
But since the manager isn’t just ‘any’ manager, but rather the self-proclaimed “Unique One” maverick that is Paolo Di Canio, the North East club have reached a media exposure previously unknown of at this latitude.
If you believe the media hype, the Italian’s appointment has shaken English football to its core with Di Canio’s refusal to elaborate on his rather extreme political beliefs. Or Sunderland’s refusal to allow Mr Di Canio to answer those questions directly (step in now Mr Press Officer) and put this to bed , so instead the Di Canio-fascist-racist debate continues.
One doesn’t need a doctorate in politics to realise that the line separating fascism and racism is extremely fine at the best of the times, nor is it necessary to have been personally affected by the destruction caused by fascism to understand its full meaning.
Fascism – like any sort of extremism – is a vile and flawed philosophy, and despite Di Canio’s claims that “We are in a football club and not in the House of Parliament,” and that he’s “not a political person”, it’s hard to ignore the Italian’s track record that the media have brought to light – which includes a fascist salute to Lazio’s Ultras and appearing at the funeral of an Italian militant fascist suspected of carrying out a terrorist bomb attack which killed 85 people – just as it’s hard to ignore the sanctimonious position parts of the media and English football have adopted.
As distasteful, narrow-minded, and plain wrong as Di Canio’s political beliefs might be, the general reaction following his appointment at Sunderland was a world apart from the way he tip-toed his way into Swindon’s dugout almost two years ago.
Which leads to a very simple question, why now?
Are extreme political views more acceptable in lower league football, but become distasteful in the Premier League?
Sunderland are a high-profile club compared to Swindon, meaning bigger exposure and attention, but the FA has often stressed the need to address football’s social issues starting with lower league football, so why all the fuss now? Why didn’t the media run this story when he first arrived at Swindon Town, it wasn’t like no one highlighted it at the time.
It might sound far-fetched but would, for example, the FA treat a case of racism in League Two differently than it would do if the same thing happened in the Premier League?
Furthermore, amongst the frenzy that surrounds Di Canio, many have seem to have forgotten that the Italian is perfectly within his rights to express his opinion, as controversial as it might be and unless he breaks the law, we should only judge him from a professional point of view.
And that is a judgment that will have to wait another seven weeks. It’s time to let football do the talking.