Some players love a bit of controversy. Whether it is always managing to get themselves sent off in games, hitting a team mate with a golf club in training, or cheating on your wife with your best mate’s ex. This player hit the headlines in different ways, one for his extraordinary skills and exploits few could manage, and the others for his fascist beliefs and his love of pushing referees. What happened to Paolo Di Canio?
Di Canio moved from club to club in his career, with spells at Lazio, Juventus, Napoli, AC Milan and Celtic, before joining Sheffield Wednesday in 1997. At Hillsborough, Di Canio became a fan favourite alongside compatriot Benito Carbone, and the Italian was the club’s leading scorer with 14 goals in 1997-98. But Di Canio will always be remembered at Wednesday for that infamous push on referee Paul Alcock in September 1998, that left the referee on the ground and the Italian with an eleven match ban to savour.
Disgraced in Sheffield, West Ham snapped up the fiery Italian in January 1999 for a paltry £1.7 million. In his four years at Upton Park, Di Canio became a West Ham legend. The Italian’s performances led West Ham to qualify for the UEFA Cup, there was that breathtaking volley against Wimbledon in 2000, and 48 goals in 118 games for the club.
A public spat with Glenn Roeder and relegation from the Premiership saw Di Canio leave West Ham and join Charlton, where he stayed for only a season and scored 4 goals. The Italian then moved back to Rome and joined struggling Lazio, taking a large pay cut in the process. Di Canio was again a success at Lazio, scoring in the Rome derby and hitting the back of the net 11 times in his two years at the club. But Di Canio’s close relationship with the Lazio “Ultras”, due to his right-wing beliefs and the fascist salutes he made to the fans.
Annoyed with Di Canio because of his influence with the team and the fans, Lazio decided not to renew his contract and the striker joined Cisco Roma in the Italian fourth division, where he played until he retired in March 2008.
Di Canio was one of the most exciting and passionate footballers to ever grace the Premier League, with his breathtaking skill making him a fan favourite in England. Di Canio’s compassion and good nature even won him a FIFA Fair Play Award in 2001. Former manager Harry Redknapp summed it up best when he described the talismanic Italian,
“He does things with the ball that make you gasp. Other footballers would pay to watch him train. Di Canio is an entertainer. When he is focused and in form, few can rival his invention, skill and technique.”
But for all of Di Canio’s undisputed talent, you get a feeling that he never fulfilled his true potential. His unpredictability, tendency to speak his mind and defy authority have led to high profile fall outs with Glenn Roeder, Fabio Capello and Marcelo Lippi. Take Di Canio’s international record: he was always overlooked by Italy and never received a single international cap. I know Italy had some excellent strikers when Di Canio was playing (Alessandro Del Piero, Christian Vieri, Filippo Inzaghi all spring to mind), but Di Canio’s omission says more about his attitude than his abilities as a footballer.
And then we have the fascist beliefs. Apart from former Lazio defender Sinisa Mihajlovic (who was racist against Patrick Vieira and was good friends with the Serbian terrorist Arkan), Di Canio is one of the most controversial footballers ever. There’s the “DVX” tattoo, which the latin abbreviation of the former Italian dictator Benito Mussolini and the Roman salutes that Di Canio performed whilst at Lazio.
After a brief spell coaching at Cisco Roma, Di Canio is trying to control his volatile temper and make it in management by getting his coaching badges. He has even expressed a desire to manage West Ham one day. But whatever happens, Paolo Di Canio will go down as one of the best foreigners to ever play in the Premiership and sit alongside Gianfranco Zola as one of the best Italian players to have played in England.
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