LONDON (AP) — Paolo Di Canio's turbulent and divisive Sunderland reign was abruptly ended after less than six months on Sunday as he became the first manager to be fired this Premier League season.
Sunderland announced it had "parted company" with the Italian a day after a 3-0 loss to West Bromwich Albion left the northeast club bottom of the standings and without a win from five games this season.
The firing comes amid reports of player unrest after Di Canio said his "players need to release the rubbish from their brains," and brings an end an uneasy chapter in the club's 134-year-old history. "The club would like to place on record its thanks to Paolo and his staff and wishes them well for the future," Sunderland said in a short statement, 175 days after hiring Di Canio.
Di Canio's appointment in March provoked a widespread backlash, with anger within and outside the club after American owner Ellis Short brought in a manager who had made well-publicized statements in the past expressing fascist leanings.
Despite achieving the initial objective of avoiding relegation last season, the single point Sunderland had collected from five games this season means he is out of a job after just 13 games in charge.
"It was perhaps (the club) felt that the players were finding it hard to conform to his unique style ... and by the looks of things the players weren't buying into it," former Sunderland chairman Niall Quinn told Sky Sports television. "They've made a very brave decision to appoint him, they got what they wanted out of him, and now they've made a brave decision (for him) to go. It wouldn't have been my style."
Kevin Ball, a former Sunderland captain, has been put in temporary charge, with a League Cup game against Peterborough on Tuesday. Di Canio was only hired at the end of March, with the maverick replacing Martin O'Neill when the team was nose-diving toward the League Championship.
Critics not only questioned his lack of coaching experience — just 21 months at lower-league Swindon — but also his past statements that expressed fascist sympathies. On the evening he was appointed on March 31, former British Foreign Secretary David Miliband resigned from his positions as vice chairman and non-executive director of the club in protest.
Following an outcry during a stormy few first days in charge, Di Canio eventually renounced his links to fascism but refused to be questioned on the matter. The row faded as he masterminded the three wins that preserved Sunderland's Premier League status, including a striking derby success at Newcastle.
Given the resources to strengthen in the summer transfer window, Di Canio brought in 14 new players. But the decision to sign just one Englishman provoked the ire of the Football Association, whose chairman Greg Dyke held up the club as a reason for the inability for homegrown talent to gain opportunities in the country's topflight.
And the new first-team recruits failed to gel on the pitch — with the only win this season coming in the League Cup against third-tier side MK Dons. Di Canio's only managerial experience until landing the Sunderland job had been in League One. And his outspoken approach at Swindon had already angered many while flagging up the potential pitfalls of putting him in the dugout.
Already this season, Di Canio had been fined 8,000 pounds ($12,800) by the FA after accepting a charge of misconduct for an outburst at a referee that saw him sent off. After a colorful playing career in the top divisions of Italy, England and Celtic, Di Canio's downfall was not unexpected.
Although he scored sublime goals, there were also headline-grabbing antics, notably when he pushed a referee to the ground after being sent off while playing for Sheffield Wednesday in 1998. He scored more than 100 goals in over 500 appearances as a player with Lazio, Juventus, Napoli, AC Milan, Celtic and West Ham among other clubs before retiring in 2008.
Now his next steps in football remain uncertain — particularly in England — while Sunderland searches for its sixth permanent manager in less than five years. Possible candidates for the job are former Chelsea and West Brom manager Roberto Di Matteo, and Gus Poyet, who left Brighton earlier this year.