Paolo Di Canio: Controversial Genius?

Paolo Di Canio was an Italian footballer with a remarkable playing career which spanned 23 years and was often shrouded in controversy. He became a much debated figure and was renowned both on and off the pitch. His misdemeanors included an eleven match extended ban and a £10,000 fine for pushing a referee to the ground after being sent off for Sheffield Wednesday against Arsenal in 1998. What is more, he had rows with a number of his former managers, including Giovanni Trapattoni (which resulted in Di Canio leaving his then club Juventus) as well as Fabio Capello. 

Celebrating versus Everton - Mad man?

Perhaps his most noted incidents involved his political stance. His Roman salute to Lazio fans has become, for many, a symbol of Di Canio as well as his self-proclaimed Fascist status which also caused a stir amongst the footballing and political worlds. His list of incidents make Mario Balotelli look tame and this generally overshadows his footballing achievements.

Juventus, Lazio, Napoli, A.C. Milan and Celtic are just a few of the clubs that Di Canio played for during his notorious career. Some of his notable honours include a UEFA Cup, a UEFA Super Cup, a Champions League runner up and a Serie A title. Di Canio’s volley against Wimbledon whilst playing for West Ham is generally considered as one of the best goals in Premier League history and won goal of the decade in a Sky Sports poll. He proved to be a key figure for West Ham and in the 2001-2002 season Sir Alex Ferguson tried to sign him for Manchester United but his bid was unsuccessful. But in 2004 he returned to his home club Lazio where he was well received by fans. But during his second spell at the club Di Canio had a strained relationship with his teammates and coaches and created negative publicity for the club. He was subsequently released after only two seasons and retired two seasons after that. 

However, that was not to be the end of Di Canio in football and after hanging up his boots he gained his UEFA coaching license. In 2011 he was appointed manager of Swindon Town, following their relegation to League Two. Under Di Canio Swindon won League Two in style. Despite an initial poor run of results they went on a 10 match winning streak which was a new League Two record and they finished the campaign on an impressive 93 points. This meant the championship trophy and promotion straight back up to League One. What is more, Di Canio guided Swindon to the 4th round of the FA Cup beating Premiership side Wigan Athletic along the way and reached the final of the Football League Trophy where they were eventually defeated by League One side Chesterfield

THAT goal versus Wimbledon
Under Di Canio Swindon were sitting third in League One just one point off the top by February 2013. However, on 18 February, Paolo Di Canio resigned as manager after the club had run itself into financial difficulties. Di Canio even offered to pay £30,000 of his own money to help keep loan players at the club but this was rejected by the Football League due to the club’s financial situation. Out of the 95 games as manager of Swindon, Di Canio had won 53, drew 19 and lost only 23. With only two games remaining of the season Swindon are still in the playoff zone with a chance of claiming back to back promotion to play in the Championship next season.

 This can largely be attributed to the efforts of Paolo Di Canio, who single handedly turned the fortunes of Swindon Town around. Having left Swindon, Di Canio was appointed manager of Sunderland on March 31, following the sacking of Martin O’Neill. This instantly caused a stir. Sunderland’s vice chairman, David Miliband resigned due to Di Canio’s political alignment and his past political statements. The controversies that mark his past will always follow him around. His appointment as Sunderland manager caused a massive media storm that brought to light many of his past contentious moments. Yet Di Canio is worth all the fuss, clearly blessed with a passion and an ability for the game as a player we are yet to fully discover what awaits for Paolo Di Canio the manager.

 From the brief time we have had to watch him at work from the sidelines it seems an exciting prospect for the Premier League. Di Canio is able to instill his passion and desire for football into his teams and allows them to play with some creative freedom which is eye catching. With recent reports that he will be cutting short his players’ holidays this year, as well as his box office reaction to Sunderland’s defeat of Everton in April, it is obvious that Di Canio is competing only with Mourinho for the title of entertainment king. Football needs characters such as Di Canio in it. He wears his heart on his sleeve and ensures that there’ll never be a dull moment whilst he is about. He brings a new lease of life with him to his players and I for one am looking forward to watching him strut his stuff in the technical area at Sunderland next season.       

What does next season have in store for Di Canio?

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