Paolo Di Canio: Rebellious players cowards, says ex-Sunderland boss

Former Sunderland manager Paolo Di Canio has suggested players who rebelled against his management of the Stadium of Light club were "cowards".

The Italian, 45, was sacked in September after a group of players were said to have approached chief executive Margaret Byrne expressing their concerns about his training methods.

"To be honest, I've never been part of a group of players that went to the chairman," he said.

MOTD3 pundits reflect on Paolo Di Canio's sacking at Sunderland

"That is for cowards."

Speaking to the BBC's Football Focus programme, he added: "I really believe in work, work, work so my standards are very high for those people without ambition.

"People with ambition want Paolo Di Canio."

Di Canio was appointed as the Black Cats' head coach in March last year and guided them to Premier League safety.

Di Canio's journey

  • Born in Rome, 9 July 1968
  • Played in Italy for Lazio, Juventus, Napoli, AC Milan, Cisco Roma
  • Played in Britain for Celtic, Sheffield Wednesday, West Ham and Charlton
  • Fined £10,000 in 1998 by the FA for pushing referee Paul Alcock to the ground after being sent off while playing for Sheffield Wednesday against Arsenal
  • Won Fifa Fair Play award for sportsmanship in 2001 for catching ball and stopping play against Everton to allow injured keeper Paul Gerrard to receive treatment
  • Criticised in 2005 for making fascist-style salute during Lazio game
  • Appointed Swindon boss in May 2011; guided them into League One a year later
  • Resigned as Swindon boss in February 2013 citing issues with the club's hierarchy after sale of star player Matt Ritchie
  • Replaced Martin O'Neill as Sunderland boss in March 2013; club avoid relegation
  • Sacked after four defeats in five league games of 2013-14

He was dismissed less than six months into his tenure after winning just one of the first six games of this season, but Di Canio believes he should have been given more time.

"If the club is weak then they believe in the players, if they are strong they believe more in the manager," he said.

"That is not something that can only happen at Sunderland, it can happen anywhere."

During Di Canio's brief reign, 14 players were signed, but the former Swindon manager suggested few of his own targets were brought in.

He added: "We should ask the director who has now been sacked, [Roberto] De Fanti why all the targets I mentioned to them and we had all the chances to bring, why they didn't come.

"When something goes wrong it is obvious some relationships do not work, but I kept the club up with a similar group of players last year when I took over from Martin O'Neill. I saved the club."

The former Sheffield Wednesday, Celtic and West Ham player is now keen to return to management and believes he is still capable of managing in the Premier League, despite his ill-fated spell at the Black Cats.

Di Canio has turned down one offer from outside the Premier League, while his name has been regularly chanted by West Ham supporters this season, as Sam Allardyce's side battles against relegation.

"They chant my name every time, even four years ago when I wasn't a manager. Because my experience there was like they were my family," he said.

"Everybody knows [it would be good to go back to West Ham as manager] but I don't want to say this now because it is not fair. All I can say is, one day before the end, that is my destiny."