The fact that Paolo Di Canio is back in the headlines has not come as a great surprise to many Italians. They still remember the stiff-armed salutes, the match bans and the DUX tattoo.
To Lazio fans he remains a legend who gave "body and soul" to the club; to many others he remains a figure whose footballing talent sits awkwardly with his unpalatable – if not altogether uncommon – political views.
"Sunderland needs to save itself but a good book about Mussolini and the race laws of the fascist regime would be a good thing to give to its new manager," remarked the Corriere della Sera in its report of the Sunderland controversy. "Maybe they could ask him to study it. It would be the best way … to start."
However, while they may not have been surprised that Di Canio's views had proved controversial in Britain – in fact, some wondered why it had taken so long for the UK media to cotton on to them – other Italian commentators expressed bemusement at the intensity of the furore.
"If Di Canio were a policeman, magistrate, teacher or politician, I would be worried about his ideas. But he's a manager. So shush," wrote one journalist, Domenico Naso, on Twitter.
Others went a step further, condemning David Miliband for having resigned from the board of the club and even turning the accusations of fascist behaviour back on to the former foreign secretary. "I, for example, think that it was Miliband who did the fascist thing," remarked Tommaso Labate, a prominent journalist and blogger. "Not wanting someone to be able to do their normal job because of their crazy political views seems to be in itself fascist."
He was echoed by another commentator, Selvaggia Lucarelli: "Basically, as far as he [Miliband] is concerned, Di Canio should not be working," she wrote on Twitter. "I do not share [Di Canio's] ideas, but I won't prevent him from working because of them … He has declared himself several times to be against racial hatred and violence. And anyway, I repeat, he's going to be a coach, not the mayor of Sunderland."
The statements were criticised by many, including Duncan McDonnell of the Florence-based European University Institute, who described them as "obnoxious and irresponsible".
"Accusing someone of acting like a fascist should be a very serious accusation. Not one to be thrown about lightly. But [in Italy] it's not. And this links in to much of the bemused reaction [to the Sunderland affair]," he said in an email.
Many Italians, said McDonnell, persisted in a belief that the fascism of the 1920s – before "Mussolini had his head turned by Hitler" – was very different from Nazism and could therefore be considered "somehow acceptable".
"Hence Di Canio's Roman salutes and tattoos of Mussolini are OK for some people because they don't stray into the late 1930s leggi raziali [race laws] and deportation of Italian Jews to concentration camps," he said. "Obviously all this ignores the brutal reality of fascism right from the beginning … But it's a comfortable story."
• This article was amended on 3 April 2013 to correct the spelling of the word "fascism" in the headline.