New Sunderland manager Paolo Di Canio has addressed controversy over his political beliefs by declaring that he is not a racist and "does not support the ideology of fascism".
The appointment of the 44-year-old was fiercely criticised in some quarters, as he told an Italian news agency in 2005 that he was "a fascist, but not a racist" and was pictured giving a fascist salute to fans during his time with Italian club Lazio.
Sunderland's decision to employ him as the successor to Martin O'Neill prompted the immediate resignation of the club's vice-chairman, former foreign secretary David Miliband, while a local trade union described the move as "a betrayal and a disgrace".
Anti-racism group Kick it Out also called on him and his new employers to "demonstrate a commitment to anti-discrimination and equality of opportunity".
Di Canio declined invitations to elaborate on his political views during his introductory news conference on Tuesday, but faced with mounting criticism, he issued a statement via the Sunderland website on Wednesday.
"I have clearly stated that I do not wish to speak about matters other than football, however, I have been deeply hurt by the attacks on the football club," he said.
"This is a historic, proud and ethical club and to read and hear some of the vicious and personal accusations is painful. I am an honest man, my values and principles come from my family and my upbringing.
"I feel that I should not have to continually justify myself to people who do not understand this, however I will say one thing only - I am not the man that some people like to portray.
"I am not political, I do not affiliate myself to any organisation, I am not a racist and I do not support the ideology of fascism. I respect everyone.
"I am a football man and this and my family are my focus. Now I will speak only of football."
A local cleric, Dean of Durham Michael Sadgrove, had waded into the row on Wednesday by publishing an open letter in which he said he found Di Canio's "self-confessed fascism deeply troubling".
"I believe that unless you clearly renounce fascism in all its manifestations, you will be associated with these toxic far-right tendencies we have seen too much of in this region," Sadgrove wrote.
Sunderland will hope Di Canio's statement draws a line under the matter and allows him to focus on his mission to save the club from relegation.
The club have gone eight games without a win in the Premier League and sit a point above the relegation zone with seven matches of the season remaining.