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Biting Back: Paolo Di Canio is Sunderland's own Father Ted

Telegraph Sport: where the debate starts

With Jim Gracey

Welcome to the Premier League, Paolo di Canio, the Father Ted of football.

Watching his first press conference as Sunderland manager yesterday, I couldn't help thinking of that classic Craggy Island episode when Ted clumsily goosesteps and Hitler-salutes his way into a deeper hole as he tries to duck increasingly damning circumstantial evidence of extreme right wing tendancies.

Except, unlike Ted's quizzical flock, no-one yesterday got to ask: "I hear you're a big fascist, Paolo?"

Because, Paolo, who isn't a fascist, (nor a student of irony) immediately banned free speech. No questions about his well documented pronouncements in support of Hitler's ally Mussolini, or those salutes to Lazio's Ultra fans in his playing days there.

Sunderland's American owner, Ellis Short, is no stranger to the risk business. He made his fortune in the hedge fund investment trade – and he hasn't hedged his bets on di Canio. Time will deliver the verdict on the judgement call in probably the most diametrically opposed region in the UK to the baggage di Canio brings there.

It has been argued the decision is purely a football one; that the Italian should be judged on his results and not his political views.

Very convenient for Paolo, because looking at his admiration for Mussolini, and those salutes, he has a history of backing losers.

Meanwhile Paolo branded the controversy over his past as 'ridiculous and pathetic'. Much like his views in the present day. Millions went to war and millions died in conflicts for and against facism. It's easy for Paolo to stand in his tracksuit and spout. Put him in a uniform and see how he defends it – wouldn't be such a great laugh then, Ted.

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