Flair Icons #12: Paolo Di Canio

Paolo Di Canio

by Sam Parish



Born: 9/7/68, Rome, Italy

Clubs: Lazio; Juventus; Napoli; Milan; Celtic; Sheffield Wednesday; West Ham; Charlton; Lazio; Cisco Roma

Management: Swindon Town


Just where do you start with this craziest of Italian characters? If you go purely on the numbers, Paolo had a very good but not quite great career, turning out 532 times for a variety of clubs including Sheffield Wednesday (when they were good), West Ham (when they were good), Charlton (when they were good), Lazio, Juventus, Celtic, Napoli and Milan, and scoring 127 times in the process. He also played nine times for the Italian under-21 team, scoring two goals. But as we know, Paolo is about so much more than the numbers.
Firstly, he scored this goal. Not bad, I’m sure you’ll agree. But despite his obvious talent, Paolo never got picked for Italy. Why not? Well, probably because he was/is a complete mentalist, and it’s this combination of footballing ability and sheer lunacy (and dubious political views) that earn him a rightful place in the pantheon of flair.

We’ll get it out the way quickly – he’s a fascist. Let’s try and ignore that and move on, yeah? Hopefully one day he’ll realise that it’s not really cool and Mussolini wasn’t the greatest of blokes.

If you look at his entire career, Paolo certainly got through his clubs, partly because he nearly always seemed to piss off someone quite important within these clubs. This is an obviously flair attribute, especially when you consider the names involved. He left Juventus in 1993 after falling out with then-manager Giovanni Trappatoni. Three years later, Fabio Capello booted him out of Milan and off to Celtic, which is when he first appeared on the radar of many British flairniacs (except those disciples of another flair hero, James Richardson, and his inspirational show Football Italia).

Strangely, he was quite subdued whilst in Glasgow and had an excellent season, culminating in a £4.2 million move to Sheffield Wednesday, who were at that time an established Premier League side.

Again, a pretty uneventful first season in the Steel City went by before the **** really hit the fan in September 1998, when he dared to lay slightly more than a finger on referee Paul Alcock after being sent off against Arsenal.

As you can see, he gets into a bit of a barney with Martin Keown, which is never particularly wise to begin with, and then shoves the ref over when he dares to flash some red at him. Yes, Alcock went down absurdly easily, but the FA didn’t see the obviously amusing side and hit our Paolo with an 11-game ban. That suggests that in the FA’s eyes lightly shoving someone is worse than being racist, but I digress…

Not long after, he signed for West Ham, scored the fantastic goal above, and then got involved in more controversy. But what I love about this particular incident is that it shows the totally contradictory nature of our man. So far we’ve seen him argue with managers, fight with players and gently prod a referee. But in a game against Everton, he caught the ball in mid-air rather than attempt to score, as opposing keeper Paul Gerrard was lying in an injured heap miles outside the box.

FIFA gave him a special fair play award – not bad for a bloke who just under three years previously had “assaulted” a referee and had his whole future in the game in question.

Disappointingly, Paolo’s time in England from here on out was pretty routine – great skills, some great goals, a row with Hammers boss Glenn Roeder, but nothing quite so extraordinary as what had gone before. But if Di Canio teaches us anything, it’s that there’s always potential for more.

And that duly arrived when he took a big pay cut on leaving England (Charlton Athletic no less, which perhaps says something about their financial management at the time) to sign for his boyhood club, Lazio. Fascist salute-related goal celebrations and winners in Rome derbies followed, but Paolo’s nuttiness meant it all turned sour as an argument with club president Claudio Lotito (apparently around his rather cosy relationship with the club’s fascist ultras, as well as the more mundane but standard arguments with team-mates and coaches) effectively ended his career in the big-time in 2006.

Fear not, though, flairniacs, for Paolo is still hitting the headlines and thus this article can never really be completed. He’s currently manager of Swindon Town, and in a quite hilarious rant the other week blamed pretty much everyone else except himself for getting sent off for the third time in half a season, ending up by guaranteeing victory in the league. Watch this space!

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