Trevor Sinclair has confirmed his friendship with Paolo Di Canio while team-mates at West Ham and claims the new Sunderland head coach's historical claims that he is a fascist should be "taken with a pinch of salt".
Di Canio's appointment has sparked a flurry of controversy owing to comments made in 2005 to Italian news agency ANSA in which he stated: "I am a fascist, not a racist". The Italian issued a statement attempting to play down the issue and named former England winger Sinclair and current Charlton manager Chris Powell as black players with whom he became close friends.
And Sinclair told Thursday's Daily Star: "I was not surprised to be named as a character witness. We genuinely got on well and I don't mind giving my opinion on such a relevant and important issue within not just football but society. Paolo's comments should be taken with a pinch of salt because he's as mad as a hatter."
He added: "But I feel he should apologise for upsetting so many people with his actions and comments and make it clear once and for all if he is or isn't racist or fascist."
Di Canio appeared to finally do that on Wednesday in a new statement on his club's official website which read: "I am not a racist and I do not support the ideology of fascism. I respect everyone."
That came after the Dean of Durham wrote an open letter to the new Black Cats boss saying he was struggling to stay loyal to the club and that he found Di Canio's "self-confessed fascism deeply troubling".
The issue had already prompted former Labour foreign secretary David Miliband to resign his non-executive role on the club's board within minutes of Di Canio's appointment.