Sunderland hired Di Canio on Sunday, but the decision prompted one of its directors to resign in protest. David Miliband vacated his position as vice-chairman and non-executive director, citing differences with the new manager’s fascist political leanings.
“I wish Sunderland AFC all success in the future,” Miliband wrote on his website. “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.”
Di Canio came under fire for his political views during his days as a Lazio player. In 2005, he celebrated a goal by giving a straight-arm salute to Lazio fans — a fascist gesture. When asked about it, Di Canio revealed his political views. “I am a fascist, not a racist,” he said.
Miliband, a former U.K. foreign secretary and leading figure in Britain’s Labour Party, had served on the Sunderland board since February 2011. His resignation could be one of his final high-profile political acts. Earlier this week, he announced that he was stepping down as a minister of parliament.
Di Canio replaced Martin O’Neil, who was fired after Sunderland lost to Manchester United on Saturday. The Italian signed a two-and-a-half-year contract, but his immediate task is to save the club from relegation. Sunderland sits 16th in the Premier League with seven games remaining in the season.
The controversey surrounding Di Canio’s appointment shows how mixing politics and profession can have awkward consequences. Many observers are so preoccupied with his personal politics, they fail to mention that he is one of the most promising managerial talents in the English game and a half-decent cat burglar.
Photo via Twitter/@Ladbrokes