In a world where the game gets pulled into disparaging levels of disrepute, it’s worth remembering those moments that make your heart feel that little more full …
Regardless of your personal opinion on the enigmatic Italian, there’s simply no doubting the talent of Paolo Di Canio … and his catching ability(!) A career spanning the best part of two decades across a number of high-profile clubs in Italy and England’s top divisions, there have been a concoction of moments that go some way to illustrating his topsy-turvy legacy.
From pushing over a referee when playing for Sheffield United, to ‘rejecting’ Sir Alex Ferguson‘s plea to join him at Manchester United and that incredible scissor kick against Wimbledon – can’t wait to write about that, btw (in fact, I’m going to link it down below, so feel free to check it out if you haven’t seen the actual incident itself). It’s clear that Di Canio does what Di Canio wants, even to the chagrin of those who are at his mercy.
English fans will best remember the memorable Italian for his stint in the claret and blue of West Ham United. Sure, there’ll be others from the ‘older guard’ who might recall his Sheffield Wednesday days well, or perhaps even his voyage to Swindon and Charlton as he wound down his career during those twilight years as a professional.
Nevertheless, his time with the Hammers contained a plethora of moments which have since become synonymous with him. It’s because of this that Paolo Di Canio has become a cult figure at the now-Olympic Stadium, especially when you consider that he didn’t spend a longer stint with any other club than he did West Ham. A pretty impressive statistic when you understand the calibre of teams he’s played for during his time.
Juventus, Napoli and Milan have all had Di Canio on their books, so Harry Redknapp knew exactly the player he was getting when he signed the Italian, though understood that his relatively modest £1.5 million price tag came with a lot of baggage that was excluded from the price.
In fact, that Wednesday incident we mentioned earlier where he pushed the referee over, had resulted in a £10,000 fine and an eleven-match ban before his contract was terminated over there. No matter, Redknapp and co. were more than happy to treat themselves to a cheeky Paolo Di Canio deal on the basis that he’d put those times behind him and was able to use his powers for good and not evil. Don’t think they counted on this, though …
Near Christmas in the year 2000, Everton hosted West Ham in the Premier League. A seemingly innocuous fixture during an innocuous time, the game was locked at 1-1 with the Italian rarely getting a sniff of the ball to influence proceedings. However, when goalkeeper Paul Gerrard came out to clear his lines, fluffed them and went down, it seemed an opportune moment for West Ham to capitalise on the situation.
The ball was taken from Gerrard – who still remained on the ground by this point – and the ball lofts up into the area and onto the head of Di Canio. But instead of forcing his head goal wards for what might have been the winner, the man instead decided to catch the ball, halt play and allow the stricken ‘keeper to get some treatment.
Looking back it was the highest example of football sportsmanship that you could see, and provided by a man whose legacy might lead you to forget things like this. Doubt if Harry Redknapp sees it that way, mind you!