John Hughes backs Paolo Di Canio

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Hartlepool United manager John Hughes has backed his former Celtic team-mate Paolo Di Canio to shrug off the controversy surrounding his appointment and succeed at Sunderland.

Former Falkirk, Hibs and Livingston manager Hughes played alongside the Italian at Celtic during the mid-90s and the pair remain friends.

Di Canio has come under fire for previous comments about his political beliefs but Hughes reckons the Black Cats have made an astute appointment who will whip Sunderland’s underachieving stars into shape.

“I thought I could talk, well, he is non-stop,” said Hughes, 48.

“As a team-mate he was brilliant, he was passionate and volatile but there was a real sense of camaraderie and solidarity when he was on your side.

“He was very opinionated on how we should play the game, so it is no surprise he has now gone into coaching and I think he is a good appointment.

“I’m looking forward to seeing Paolo make a success of it and trust me, he will. He never doubts himself. He is the gaffer – you have to dance to his tune.

“Once the boys get over his regime, then I think he has good professionals there, Steven Fletcher, John O’Shea, Craig Gardner, all guys who want to succeed.”

Hughes has revealed he will be straight on the phone to Di Canio in a bid to utilise the cream of the crop in the Sunderland academy for his own Hartlepool side, currently languishing at the foot of League One.

He added: “I’ll be in touch and look to get in there with him.

“I’m always keeping an eye on what young players the clubs in the North-East have, so knowing Paolo like I do will be a big help. I’m a friend of his and I wish him all the best and hopefully, in time, we can use it to the advantage of Hartlepool.”

Hughes left Livingston in November to realise his long-held ambition of working in England. Hartlepool are battling against relegation into League Two, with just three games remaining.