Paolo Di Canio again refused to publicly explain his political views after suffering defeat on his debut as Sunderland manager, but insisted “as a person you don’t change”.
Scorers: Chelsea - Kilgallon 47 (og), Ivanovic 55; Sunderland - Azpilicueta 45 (og)
The build-up to Di Canio’s first match as successor to Martin O’Neill was overshadowed by debate over the controversial Italian’s character after his 2005 statement proclaiming to be a “fascist but not a racist”.
Former foreign secretary David Miliband quit as club vice-chairman following Di Canio’s appointment and the former striker on Wednesday belatedly insisted he does not support “the ideology of fascism”.
He could not prevent Sunderland’s winless run extending to nine games as Chelsea won 2-1 at Stamford Bridge and declined to comment directly on his views in the post-match media conference.
Di Canio was more willing to elaborate when asked about his character in response to comments from his former team-mate, David James, who wrote in The Observer yesterday that the Italian was “unlikable”.
“If I have to answer every comment it’s difficult,” Di Canio said. “As a person you don’t change, but you become an adult, you become a manager. You can also handle your nature because you know now you’re not a footballer, now you have responsibility for many others.
“Obviously your nature never changes, but you can lead, you can guide because you know that you have to be careful sometimes when you do something. I don’t think you are the same person as 20 years ago, ten years ago. We all change. We maintain the principles of when we were growing up, but we change a bit as a man, now as a manager.
“I respect every opinion. Calling me someone who is good, someone who is bad, it’s not an issue for me now. I don’t want to comment on what the others said.
“I respect your job, my ex-team-mates and people that work in this environment, but I’m sure about myself. If I have to answer every comment it’s difficult. I would have to stay here all day.”
Asked about the Durham Miners’ decision to stay away from Sunderland games in protest, Di Canio replied: “Do you want to ask something about football?” – before the media conference was brought to a close.
His side’s defeat to Chelsea returned the Londoners to the top four of the Barclays Premier League with a third successive win at Stamford Bridge. .
Chelsea trailed at half-time to Cesar Azpilicueta’s own goal. Matt Kilgallon then deflected into his own net following a surging run by substitute Fernando Torres, and Branislav Ivanovic directed a David Luiz shot into the Sunderland goal to put the Blues in front after 55 minutes.
It proved to be the winner as Chelsea, who beat Manchester United on Monday and Rubin Kazan on Thursday, moved above Tottenham on goal difference and into third place.
The Blues’ attention now turns to Thursday’s trip to Moscow for their Europa League quarter-final second leg with Rubin before next weekend’s FA Cup semi-final with Manchester City at Wembley, while next for Sunderland is a Tyne-Wear derby at Newcastle.
Di Canio’s former West Ham team-mate Frank Lampard was introduced for the final skirmishes yesterday, as Sunderland failed to find an equaliser.
Di Canio, who was met warmly by Chelsea captain John Terry before kick-off, was given seven games to ensure Premier League survival.