Martin O’Neill reignites Paolo Di Canio feud over Sunderland comments that saw coaches clash

Former Sunderland boss Martin O’Neill has reignited his rivalry with Paolo Di Canio after the Italian took over from him at the Stadium of Light.

O’Neill, who has a wealth of managerial experience at clubs including Aston Villa, Celtic and Leicester City, was appearing on talkSPORT alongside Sam Matterface and Danny Murphy when the subject of his move to Sunderland came up.


O’Neill was sacked as manager of Sunderland in March 2013.Credit: Getty Images

The Northern Ireland manager was sacked in March 2013 and replaced by Di Canio, who slammed the team’s fitness in comments which angered O’Neill at the time.

This sparked a war of words that included calling the Italian a “charlatan manager” and O’Neill still holds a grudge more than a decade later.

Speaking live on talkSPORT, the 72-year-old said: “I was the manager of Sunderland and I left Sunderland and Paolo Di Canio came in and made a reference to fitness.

“He spent about 16 weeks himself, including pre-season, and eventually lost his job because the team wasn’t fit enough.

“So it bounced back on him. He was a brilliant, brilliant player but he couldn’t handle a fish supper at the end of the day.

“It reflects on you, it’s true. You can’t talk about the fitness of the previous regime.

“That may be true, but don’t start (the work) saying it publicly, because it might come back to haunt you.”

O’Neill had managed Sunderland from December 2011 to March 2013 after a defeat to Manchester United saw them move one point above the relegation zone.

Di Canio and O'Neill sparked a war of words after the Italian criticized the Sunderland team's fitness.


Di Canio and O’Neill sparked a war of words after the Italian criticized the Sunderland team’s fitness.Credit: Getty
O'Neill reignited his feud with Di Canio live on talkSPORT


O’Neill reignited his feud with Di Canio live on talkSPORT

But while the Black Cats survived under Di Canio’s tutelage, the Premier League legend was sacked within weeks of the start of the following season after club CEO Margaret Byrne revealed players had come talking to him about his “brutal criticism” of the team.

Asked about his successor, O’Neill replied: “Paolo Di Canio? That managerial charlatan – absolutely, yes.

Former Newcastle striker Adam Armstrong celebrates in front of Sunderland fans after scoring a controversial goal for Southampton

“Paolo intervened and, as the weeks went by, he no longer had any excuses. I had an ironic smile.

“It’s like a 27-year-old manager comes in and the first thing you do is criticize the team’s fitness beforehand. If you’ve ever seen Aston Villa play you’ll see that the only thing I’m proud, these are the teams. be in good shape.

“What you’ll find interesting is that when he started, the team wasn’t fit for the Chelsea game. Then the following week, when he won at Newcastle, he didn’t been mentioned that he was not in good shape.

“Then about two weeks later they were mauled by Aston Villa, someone asked him about his fitness. Suddenly he didn’t know where to go. Because the team, as it progresses , should be in better shape.

“And then, at the start of the season, when he lost by a late goal at Southampton, he was asked about his fitness regime, about the fact that he was going to make them the most in league form.

“Suddenly fitness wasn’t for this game but for Christmas, when the winter months came. You know, I had a wry smile at that one.”

Di Canio has not managed a club since his dismissal at Sunderland while O’Neill went on to coach the Republic of Ireland for five years and also had a brief spell at Nottingham Forest in 2019.


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