With a successful playing career with the likes of West Ham, Juventus, Napoli and Milan – di Canio is considered a footballing great.
With an immense passion for the game, and the fans, but also an extreme, and somewhat volatile temper, his career was bound to have many ups and downs.
He started his career in Lazio, making 54 appearances after coming up through the youth setup, further having spells at Juventus, Napoli and Milan in Italy.
The controversial side of di Canio emerged when he had left Italy, having moved on to Celtic. Di Canio was a key figure in a league match against Rangers, and was said to gesture and shout threats, and behave aggressively towards the Rangers bench after the full-time whistle. Di Canio had to be restrained, and was eventually shown a red card after the full-time whistle by referee Hugh Dallas.
His taste of controversial moments at Celtic was not over. Paolo made a claim, stating that, “90 per cent of Scotland’s referees were Protestant and therefore biased against Celtic.” This statement forced the SFA into censoring him and subsequently started an investigation into his behaviour.
At the end of the same season, di Canio walked out on his club. F*ck the four year contract he signed. He left Scotland and flew back to Rome, just before Celtic were due to play Inter Cable-Tel (now known as Cardiff Metropolitan University) in the UEFA Cup.
He eventually left for Sheffield Wednesday, and he was accused by the Celtic faithful of using the club. The deal that saw an unsettled di Canio leave Celtic Park was an apparent £4.2 million – an incredible fee at the time.
However, di Canio had a somewhat successful 1-and a half year spell at the South Yorkshire club, becoming the leading goal scorer in the 1997-1998 season and impressing the fans and the doubters.
Nevertheless – di Canio couldn’t resist trouble for long. In September of 1998, referee Paul Alcock was pushed to the ground by di Canio, when playing in a league game vs Arsenal. He was fined just £10,000 but did receive an 11-game ban.
That game was his last for Wednesday, as Harry Redknapp parted with just £1.5 million to take him to his West Ham side. Redknapp admitted di Canio was a risk – but as di Canio had publicly apologised for pushing the referee, and previous behaviour, it appeared to be a good deal.
At the time, di Canio thanked Redknapp and was said to be relishing the opportunity given to him. It appeared that di Canio had turned over a new leaf.
He had a very successful first season with the Hammers, helping guide the London club to a very respectable 5th place finish, also helping the club gain a spot in Europe through the Intertoto cup.
Then, in December of 2000, di Canio brought play to a halt after realising that Everton stopper Paul Gerrard was laying down injured. He picked up the ball, and received a standing ovation from both sets of fans. He was praised by FIFA at the time, and went on to win the FIFA Fair play award.
Later that season, rumours circulated that Alex Ferguson was very interested in the player. In the middle of the 2001-02 season Ferguson attempted to bring him to the Red Devils, but was unsuccessful in his attempts.
Paolo di Canio was dropped from West Ham following a public row with manager Glenn Roeder. He returned to the first team when Trevor Booking replaced Glenn, and scored a winner against Chelsea to give them a chance of Premiership survival. This was not enough, as West Ham eventually got relegated, and di Canio was released on a free.
Charlton Athletic picked the experienced forward up – and di Canio guided the Addicks to their highest ever position in the top flight of English football, 7th. And although just four goals were scored by the Italian that season, he was regarded as a huge fan favourite by Charlton fans, and even an icon by some.
From his interaction off the pitch, signing shirts and meeting fans, from his actions on the pitch, creating plenty of chances and ripping up defences – di Canio has somewhat cemented himself in the memories of supporters. When I spoke to some of the fans that witnessed him play, none of them had a negative thing to say.
In fact, the overall statement was that they wish he stayed longer. It was no coincidence that the single year Paolo was at the club, was the year that Charlton did have their highest ever finish in their 112-year history.
He returned to Italy in August of 2004, joining Lazio, ironically taking a massive pay cut to join the financially-insecure team.
di Canio’s arrival was met with many problems. He did not get on with coaches and other players due to his intimate relationship with the ultras of the club. If that wasn’t bad enough, he had also fallen out with the majority shareholder, and in 2006 his contract was not renewed. During his time at the club he used a fascist salute numerous times, causing a stir among the media.
This was a signal that his playing career was coming to an end. After spending two years in the Italian Serie C, he retired.
His footballing days were not over however – and there was plenty more action and contentious moments to come.
On the 20th May 2011, di Canio was appointed as Swindon Town manager on a two-year deal.
He kickstarted his managerial career with a 3-0 win over Crewe Alexandra. However, just a few months later, in August, di Canio was involved in an altercation in the tunnels with Leon Clarke after their defeat to Southampton in the League Cup.
But, for every bad moment he had two good ones. There was shock as di Canio caused an FA Cup tremor. as Premier League Wigan succumbed to a 2-1 defeat at the County Ground. He also guided the side to a JPT Final, and the league two title.
di Canio did spend a lot of money, and it was this that caused financial difficulty among the football club. But, it was at Swindon that his passion, and love for the game really showed – as he even offered to spend upwards of £30,000 of his own money to keep three players at the club.
Then, on the 18th January 2013, 200 volunteers were gifted free pizza by Di Canio, as they helped to clear a snow-covered pitch. He also dedicated the win to the volunteers, publicly thanking them. What a fucking guy.
It wasn’t just the fans he looked out for, in an interview about Tommy Burns Di Canio stated:
‘There was a moment at Swindon when I received a text message from my player at four in the morning,’ said Di Canio. ‘He said: “Tomorrow I don’t come in the training session”.
‘I am there for my players 24 hours – but I was half-asleep and didn’t quite understand so I rang him and asked what was going on? He said: “Oh, I don’t come to training”.
‘”OK, I come to you”, I said – and I got in the car for an hour because we didn’t live in Swindon and, at five in the morning, knocked on his door.
But – Due to financial problems at Swindon, and now Premier League star Matt Ritchie being sold behind his back, Di Canio handed in his resignation. He is still considered a Swindon Legend, and greatly missed.
On 31 March 2013, Sunderland appointed di Canio as manager on a two-and-a-half-year contract. This news was not well received, as the appointment prompted the immediate resignation of club vice-chairman David Miliband due to a conflict with di Canio’s political beliefs.
Di Canio was Given the task of keeping Sunderland in the Premier League. He somehow did it, and Wigan were relegated instead.
The following season, di Canio signed fourteen fresh players, but after achieving just one point from 5 games, he was let go. Sunderland chief executive officer Margaret Byrne stated that Di Canio had been sacked after senior players had approached her and that his situation became untenable due to his “brutal and vitriolic” criticism of the squad. Di Canio has always denied this.
That was his last stint in managerial roles, but he became a pundit on Sky Sports Italia, where he came under fire for showing a tattoo that represented support for Benito Mussolini. He was suspended by the station.
The one question in all our heads is, will he ever get back into football? After applying and being linked with three jobs in as many years, it is surely a matter of time before we see this true master of football back on a touchline.