PAOLO Di Canio was appointed Sunderland’s new head coach last night after the club moved with great speed following the sacking of manager Martin O’Neill on Saturday night.
The Italian arrived on Wearside yesterday afternoon to discuss the formalities of the deal.
Talks were swiftly concluded, and late in the evening he signed the paperwork on a two-and-a-half-year deal.
Sunderland owner Ellis Short is aware of Di Canio’s volatile nature and often controversial past.
But he is also aware of the Italian’s excellent record at Swindon Town, who he led to one promotion and was on his way to potentially another on the most shoestring of budgets, before walking out last month because of the club’s failure to give him assurances over its financial future.
Di Canio is a figure who divides opinions, but Short is banking on the new manager shaking things up at Sunderland and galvanising a side which has lost its way.
He said: “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.
“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.”
Di Canio is the 43rd man to have taken charge of the club, and the fourth in the last four years.
He is also the first Continental manager of the club but, more significantly, its first head coach.
The new title suggests Sunderland will move away from the traditional British model of the manager being responsible for all aspects of the playing side, and look towards a model common in Europe, where a head coach concentrates on first-team affairs while someone else is responsible for other areas, such as identifying and signing transfer targets.
Di Canio takes charge with the club poised perilously above the Premier League drop zone, and his immediate task is to save Sunderland’s top-flight skin in the remaining seven games.
Their 1-0 defeat to Manchester United at the weekend stretched their winless run to eight games as results elsewhere went against the Black Cats.
Wigan beat Chelsea to move out of the drop zone, and Sunderland have only one point more than third-bottom Aston Villa.
The situation is desperate enough to require desperate measures and Short has taken a massive gamble with the appointment of a rookie boss who has not managed at any level higher than League One.