New Sunderland manager Paolo Di Canio distanced himself from "the ideology of fascism" on Wednesday and said he had been deeply hurt by condemnation of the Premier League club for appointing him.
The Italian's arrival at the Stadium of Light has been shadowed by his past, with the media focusing on his professed admiration of wartime dictator Benito Mussolini and a 2005 declaration that he was "a fascist, not a racist".
In a statement published on the club's website (www.safc.com), Di Canio said he had wanted to focus on football but had felt forced to address other matters after days of controversy.
"I have been deeply hurt by the attacks on the football club," said the manager, who as a Lazio player in 2005 celebrated a goal against rivals Roma with a straight-arm fascist-style salute to his club's fans.
"This is a historic, proud and ethical club and to read and hear some of the vicious and personal accusations is painful. I am an honest man, my values and principles come from my family and my upbringing.
"I will say one thing only - I am not the man that some people like to portray," the 44-year-old continued.
"I am not political, I do not affiliate myself to any organisation, I am not a racist and I do not support the ideology of fascism. I respect everyone."
'Football is deeply political'
The Italian's appointment on Sunday as replacement for the sacked Martin O'Neill kicked up an immediate storm, with former Foreign Minister David Miliband stepping down from the club's board "in the light of the new manager's past political statements".
Miliband, soon to stand down also as a Labour parliamentarian, is the son of Jewish immigrants persecuted by the Nazis during World War Two.
The Durham Miners' Association asked for the return of a banner on permanent display at the stadium and called Di Canio's arrival "a disgrace and a betrayal of all who fought and died in the fight against fascism".
"I believe that unless you clearly renounce fascism in all its manifestations, you will be associated with these toxic far-right tendencies we have seen too much of in this region"
The Dean of Durham, Michael Sadgrove
The Dean of Durham, himself the son of a Jewish refugee from wartime Germany, also wrote an open letter to the new manager asking him to renounce fascism publicly after Di Canio had ducked questions about his politics at a news conference.
"I believe that unless you clearly renounce fascism in all its manifestations, you will be associated with these toxic far-right tendencies we have seen too much of in this region," said Michael Sadgrove on his personal blog (decanalwoolgatherer.blogspot.co.uk).
"You were asked where you stood on fascism but declined to give an unambiguous response. One sentence is all that it would have taken," added the cleric, whose family are lifelong Sunderland supporters.
"Maybe your minders told you to stay on-message. But don't you see that it is no answer to plead that this press call was about football, not politics. Where a Premier League club is concerned, you can't ever separate the two."
Di Canio's appointment comes at a time of increasing popular support for far-right parties as the Euro zone crisis deepens and racist and anti-Semitic incidents at matches in some countries with high unemployment.
"Football is deeply political. To say otherwise may be convenient, but it's naive," said the Dean.