Di Canio named new Sunderland coach

LONDON (AFP) - Paolo Di Canio was named the new coach of Premier League strugglers Sunderland on Sunday, a move which sparked the resignation from the club board of an ex-foreign minister outraged by the Italian's right-wing views.

Di Canio replaced Martin O'Neill, who was sacked on Saturday.

"Sunderland AFC have confirmed the appointment of Paolo Di Canio as Head Coach on a two-and-a-half year deal," said a club statement.

The 44-year-old Di Canio will take charge of the Black Cats from Monday in succession to O'Neill, who was axed on Saturday following the 1-0 defeat at home to Manchester United.

The result left Sunderland just a point above the relegation zone.

Di Canio left third-tier Swindon Town in February, having guided the club to promotion from League Two.

His appointment immediately sent shockwaves through the struggling club with David Miliband, the British foreign minister from 2007-2010, resigning from his role as vice-chairman and non-executive director.

Miliband said he was quitting in protest at Di Canio's self-proclaimed support of fascism and his praise for former Italian dictator Benito Mussolini.

"I wish Sunderland AFC all success in the future," said Miliband.

"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."

Despite the controversy, Sunderland's American chairman Ellis Short backed Di Canio to succeed in his principal task of keeping the club in the lucrative Premier League.

"Paolo is hugely enthused by the challenge that lies ahead of him. He is passionate, driven and raring to get started," said Sunderland's American chairman Ellis Short.

"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."