There are a few characters in world football as maverick as the Italian legend Paolo di Canio. A genius on the pitch, he was capable of executing the most audacious of skills with panache, but at the same time equally volatile many a times to the detriment of his own team.
Di Canio was born in an area of Rome mostly populated by the fans of AS Roma but he was drawn to their fierce rivals SS Lazio from childhood. He fulfilled his dream of playing for his favoured team when he made his debut for the Biancocelesti in 1985 after rising through their academy.
A football nomad, he appeared for 11 clubs before he finally hung his playing boots in 2008. He is best known for his four year stay at West Ham United from 1999 to 2003. Harry Redknapp brought him to Upton Park from Sheffield Wednesday for a sum of £1.5m in January of 1999.
Capable of playing as a forward as well as an attacking midfielder, the Italian, recorded his first assist as well as the first goal in the claret and sky blue of West Ham against Blackburn Rovers in his fourth game. His performances helped the Hammers finish fifth; their highest ever placing in the Premier League era.
That same season they won the now defunct, Intertoto Cup and qualified for the UEFA Cup as a result.
Of his prized capture Redknapp, quite rightly said: “He can do things with the ball that people can only dream of”.
Harry didn’t lie, we all know it
On a personal level his second season was even more successful where he provided the West Ham faithful a lifetime of memories which endeared him to the fans. He scored a breathtaking flying volley against Wimbledon which won the BBC Goal of the Season award. In a fan poll conducted by Sky Sports, it was voted goal of the decade in 2009. For his impact on the team the fans voted him ‘Hammer of the Year’.
That’s some other level of technical ability.
In a fantastic display of sportsmanship, he forego a goal scoring opportunity and stopped play as he grabbed the ball from the cross, when he saw the Everton goalkeeper lying on the pitch holding his knee. This act further endeared him to the fans and he gained a cult status among them. He also won the FIFA Fair Play Award for his act.
Such acts of fair play have been a rarity in football
His brief but eventful stint at West Ham has ensured that he will long live in the Upton Park folklore, where his legend will only grow as the years go by.
Best celebration by any manager ever?