Big Ron dubbed Paolo di Canio the 'Volcano' when they worked together at Hillsborough.
"I have to say I was as surprised as anyone when Martin O'Neill was sacked. I think Sunderland are looking for Paolo to have a galvanising effect," Atkinson told the Daily Mail.
"And if that's the case, they've gone to the right man. I'm not sure about his appointment in the long term, but I know Paolo likes England - I think he is respected here more than he is in Italy.
"One thing's for sure between now and the end of the season there won't be a dull moment at Sunderland."