Football: Sunderland's Di Canio feared the sack

Sunderland manager Paolo Di Canio said in an interview published on Monday that he feared he might be sacked because of outrage about his political beliefs raged in the first days after his arrival at the Stadium of Light.

The Italian was forced to endure stinging criticism for once saying that he was "a fascist but not a racist", which prompted Sunderland vice-chairman, Britain's former foreign secretary David Miliband, to resign in protest at his appointment.

The 44-year-old former Lazio and West Ham striker said he was concerned that Sunderland owner Ellis Short would react to the negative mood by wielding the axe.

But the American remained supportive and Di Danio has responded by masterminding vital victories against local rivals Newcastle and Everton which have lifted the Black Cats away from the relegation zone.

"For three days after I signed the contract, what happened? I don't have to go through it all again, but look what happened," Di Canio was quoted as saying by the Sunderland Echo newspaper on Monday, ahead of his side's English Premier League clash at Aston Villa.

"He (Short) might have thought, 'Now I'll sack him straight away' because he was under pressure.

"Instead he backed me 100 per cent, 1,000 per cent. He supported me in an incredible way.

"It was a strange moment, a strange situation in those three days. I thought maybe he would call me at that time.

"But instead he rang me and backed me all the way. He said, 'Proceed because you have complete support from the Board'.

"From there, I felt even more energy, I was even more focused and even more determined to get the best out of the team, and I believed that no matter what the split with fans, I would look to make them happy as quickly as I could."