Radio 5 broadcast comments by Chris Powell on Paolo di Canio this morning which he apparently made after last night's game (the result of which was mentioned in passing). Having been named by di Canio as a best friend, my impression was that Sir Chris was trying to be diplomatic and non-commital while avoiding any endorsement of di Canio's views, which include a stated admiration for Mussolini (which it has to be said many other Italians share). Sir Chris said that di Canio should make his views clear, but that essentially it was a matter for him and Sunderland to deal with.
Then this evening Paul Mortimer was interviewed on Radio 5. Morts was quite judicious and showed some of the finesse he displayed on the pitch. To deconstruct and simplify what he was saying: 'perhaps di Canio was a racist once, but maybe he has seen the light and isn't any more.' Di Canio's latest statement certainly seems to have reassured some of his critics.
Powell told The Times: 'He was my team-mate and someone I’ve met socially and someone I’ve met since he has been a manager,” Sir Chris said. “And Sunderland have made a bold decision.
“I’m sure they knew what was coming. It’s remarkable really it never came up when he was manager of Swindon. But I feel that if he’s made statements about his political persuasion in the past, then he knows it will come up and he has to answer that. Sunderland know it’s a bold gamble because he has only managed at League One and League Two, so again that was a big decision by them.”
Powell described Di Canio as a “remarkable” player. “He did extremely well for Charlton, he was great as a team-mate and the supporters loved him, as they did at West Ham and Celtic and all the other clubs he played for,” he said. “I think now what everyone has to do ... he has to make his statement, if he wants to, about anything to do with his political views because that is something that is personal. And now it’s something that Sunderland and himself have got to get on with because they’ve got some key games to stay up. As far as I’m aware, that’s how it should be.”
It is perhaps not well known that di Canio is an accomplished cook and presented Alan Curbishley with a special Italian dessert he had made himself when he signed for Charlton.
My personal view, based on some knowledge of Italy which I have written about with Italians, is that di Canio is not a racist. Italian fascism is really an extreme form of nationalism and (although this is debated) was not especially anti-Semitic until the Nazis increased their grip on Italy. Having said that, my view is that Mussolini was an arrogant, bombastic, expletive deleted who did a lot of damage to Italy and led to the deaths of many British servicemen.
Don't think, however, that Italy is all gelati and pasta. I was speaking there during the Falklands War and there was a squad of riot police hiding round the corner ready to spring into action if a threatened attack occurred (it didn't). Once I was in Firenze and people there were upset by a former mayor being gunned down. I went on to Milano and mentioned this to a friend (admittedly her brother was inside having been a naughty boy with his machine gun) and she said, 'You don't understand, sometimes in our country these things have to happen.' Incidentally, her brother got out because they didn't get round to bringing charges.
The following item on radio 5 was also about Brighton, but this was about the issue of homophobic chanting. More on this story here: Chanting I was not aware of any from Charlton fans last night and the club was not specifically mentioned. [I have subsequently learnt from a CAS Trust tweet that Charlton supporters have been reported for homophobic abuse]. However, clearly the football has been overshadowed.