PAOLO DI CANIO was last night confirmed as the new manager of Sunderland following the sacking of Martin O'Neill on Saturday after the defeat by Manchester United.
Di Canio agreed a two-and-a-half year contract to succeed O'Neill at the Stadium of Light – his first job in football since he resigned at Swindon Town following a row about the sale of a player in February.
The 44-year-old and his representative met the Sunderland board last night at the Academy of Light, the club's training ground, and a deal was concluded, with the former West Ham forward eager to take over a club just one point above the relegation zone.
Sunderland have failed to win any of their last eight Premier League games, picking up just three points in the process during a slide down the table and owner Ellis Short acted on Saturday night following the 1-0 defeat to United in an attempt to stop the club from being relegated.
Short called Martin O'Neill to tell him of his dismissal shortly before a club statement was released at 9.25pm saying the "club had parted company" with the 61-year-old.
The Sunderland hierarchy believe a change had to be made to give them a chance of retaining their Premier League status. Sunderland have not won a match since a 3-2 success at Wigan Athletic on January 19 and Short believes the spark the controversial Di Canio (pictured) can give his football club may be enough to keep them up.
Di Canio's first game in charge of Sunderland will be at Stamford Bridge next week against Chelsea and, in a baptism of fire, he will next face Newcastle at St James' Park in the Tyne-Wear derby.
The sacking of O'Neill, who has repeatedly called for more time to make the side his own, drew anger from Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers.
"I was very surprised," he said. "Whenever someone of the status of Martin O'Neill loses his job, then we all have to be on the back foot.
"This is a guy who has been in the game for many years, has many years' experience, went into Sunderland and picked them up off their knees. Okay, they are going through a difficult time, but he is still a top-class manager."
"I think some clubs need to be careful. They need to understand where they are at. They won't always be on the front foot going forward.
"There are some times when the club just has to be stable and guys like Martin O'Neill losing his job, it's a sad day."
O'Neill – who was interviewed for the England manager's job in 2007 but missed out to Steve McClaren – has already been linked with succeeding Giovanni Trapattoni as the Republic of Ireland manager.
Former Sunderland player Kevin Kilbane admitted he was surprised to hear of his departure.
"It's the wrong decision at the wrong time," he said. "I doubt if a manager can come in now and really change things around until the end of the season."