Premier League: Paolo Di Canio appointed Sunderland manager

Former Italian football player Paolo Di Canio has been appointed head coach of Sunderland after the sacking of former boss Martin O'Neill. Di Canio, aged 44, led Swindon Town to promotion from League Two last season but resigned in February. He has no top-flight managerial experience but Sunderland have given him a two-and-a-half-year contract. The club sacked O'Neill on Saturday after a run of poor results which left the team only one point above the relegation zone with seven games left in the season.

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

Di Canio's appointment prompted former foreign secretary David Miliband to resign his position as vice-chairman and non-executive director of Sunderland. The former Labour Party leadership candidate said: "In the light of the new manager's past political statements, I think it right to step down." Di Canio has admitted to having fascist leanings, telling Italian news agency ANSA in 2005: "I am a fascist, not a racist."

The Italian's first contact with British football was in 1996 when he joined Celtic as a player, and then moved at Sheffield Wednesday, West Ham and Charlton. He retired from playing in 2008 after spells back in Italy with Lazio and former Serie C1 side Cisco Roma, and was given his first managerial role by Swindon in May 2011, replacing Paul Hart. After securing promotion and taking Swindon in the League One play-off positions, he quit the Robins on 18 February due to off-the-field issues.

Di Canio said: "I have already proven my ability in League Two and League One, where there are many arrogant and average players and I was able to turn around their mentality and help them become better footballers. The right place for me is the place that has the ambition and the staff who want to bring in a winning mentality. The club needs to have set rules, which for me are discipline, desire, passion, work ethic and a determination to get the right results to make everybody happy, namely the board, the fans and the club's players and staff. I believe I am at a stage now where I am a Premier League or Championship manager."

Sunderland are on a run of eight games without a win, with their last league victory coming on 19 January at Wigan. Sunderland are among the top five favourites for relegation this season according to the bookmakers, here are the odds on relegation at Bet365:

Reading - 1/25
QPR - 1/6
Aston Villa - 11/8
Sunderland - 7/4
Wigan - 2/1

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