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Di Canio: A Crazy Career in Amazing Stories



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Paolo Di Canio.

The man with a personality so large he makes Balotelli look like Owen (whose performances as a pundit on BT Sport has been hilariously described as “like listening to paint dry”).

Did you know Paolo once won a talent contest to play Zorro on a national television series? Me neither.


Wherever he goes mayhem ensues and his latest victim is Sunderland football club.

I should know. I’m a Sheffield Wednesday fan who pinpoints Di Canio’s infamous push on referee Alcock as the beginning of a slide that is yet to relinquish for my beloved Owls.

Admittedly, Di Canio is one of the best to grace Hillsborough but some of his actions over a career marred with controversy are difficult to defend, even if Alcock’s dramatisation of the push was given a nine by guest judge Ashley Young.

Di Canio later diffused the situation, as usual, by saying Alcock went over “like a drunken clown”.

Di Canio Speak

In any interview you can hear Di Canio speaking eloquently in his favourite narrative mode, the third person. Talking of his weird shrugging in front of the travelling fans on his last game in charge Di Canio mused, even on this day, Di Canio wanted to see the faces of the fans”.

Generally, David Pettinger dislikes speaking in the third person, it makes me sound egotistical. However I can make an exemption for the enigmatic Italian, where it seems perfectly apt for this outspoken character, especially when it’s paired with exaggerated hand movements under his chin.

This is basically a career in stories article to salute (not a fascist one) the entertainment value of the Italian but also to denounce his managerial credentials to Chairmen with managerial vacancies.

The Beginning

Di Canio has always loved his boyhood team of Lazio, so much so that on his return in 2004 he said, “I was unable to control my thoughts or my actions. I lost the power of speech. And yet I kept on crying like a baby”. This was where it all started.

Lazio Ultras

As a boy he was called “Palloca”, slang that’s roughly translated to lard-ball, mainly due to his addiction to fizzy drinks. In his town, Roma fans ruled and Di Canio wanted to be different and joined the Lazio Ultras. In this extreme supporters group he saw “bricks thrown”, has been “tear-gassed and beaten by police” and “saw a police chief knifed from five yards away”. Not to mention this was all whilst he was playing for the youth team.

Next was a move to Juventus where he developed an unfortunate susceptibility to panic attacks. After he joined, the inevitable Di Canio payer-manager row came, this time with ex-Ireland boss Trapattoni, which resulted in a move to Naples. He then miraculously managed to get on with Lippi for a while before Capello came along.

Capello Row

Capello and Paolo came to loggerheads at a meaningless pre-season friendly. After Capello had already agreed a move to Madrid he was, for some reason, desperate to win and replaced Di Canio with a defender when 1-0 up in front of a capacity crowd.

Di Canio, apparently the man of the people, denounced this change as a war on entertainment, which resulted in full on fisticuffs. It should be said this is Di Canio’s account but, from his England tenure, this does sound like the Fabio we all know and dislike.

Hurricane Paolo Visits Scotland

Hurricane Paolo steamrolled its way to Scotland and the forecast wasn’t pretty. The most ridiculous of his tenure here was probably his accusation that Scottish referees were biased against Celtic because “90%” of them are protestant. After his commitment with Celtic was questioned he gave the club a resounding backing by saying he has “little problem there”, before demanding higher wages and earning a move to the Premier League with Wednesday.

Sheffield Wednesday

Like usual, Di Canio dazzled fans for a season or two before doing something outlandish like manhandling a referee. Unlike Liverpool in Suarez’s race row, Wednesday manager Wilson decided to take a moral stance (at Wednesday’s cost) to cut all ties with Di Canio and send him back to Italy. Wilson later admitted he had no idea where he was before selling him to the Hammers in a cut price deal.

Di Canio found refuge in East London. Although Redknapp still had trouble managing the mercurial Roman, as you can see in the video below.


Then there was the Lazio homecoming. Once home, Di Canio received an invitation to a pleasant evening meal with the then Lazio Chairman but “inside the restaurant, I feel my anger rising. I start to scream like a madman. I turn the buffet table over. I start throwing things. The room is full of flying objects: plates, bottles and forks. Everything is flying; anything I can lay my hands on, I throw. I go up to the coach’s table and I start kicking it. They look at me as if I am mad.

They just don’t understand you Paolo.


If I was in the Career Advice sector and Di Canio was my next customer having finished his playing career, I wouldn’t have advised football management. However Swindon disagreed and rolled the dice with Paolo.


The fascism stories resurfaced and sponsors pulled out, much like after his future appointment at Sunderland but on a smaller scale. He claims he is a fascist, not a racist. These two terms are generally synonymous however they are not identical. Thankfully for Di Canio, Fascism is a term that is much used but below the surface its explanation is indefinite, complex and differs according to interpretation.

He has put out mixed messages regarding his political inclination and keeps the extent of his political views close to his chest (or his tattooed back) and although it is clear he has affection for Mussolini and his right wing politics, we just don’t know how much.

Swindon Stories

There are so many stories from his time as Swindon manager it’s best to bullet point.


Regardless of these incidents, his strict regime at Swindon led to some great results. The Robins won League Two and were doing well in League One when he left. They seemed to respond to his disciplined, almost dictatorial style. I think the fact he was so revered as a player maybe meant the lower league players were more receptive to him and his regime.


This was not the case at Sunderland. After keeping them up last year and a major summer clearout, the players had had enough of his dictatorial style. The senior players led a revolt and it was clear there was no other option.

His antics at Sunderland made his hero Mussolini look left wing. He banned mobile phones, ketchup, mayonnaise, singing and ice in drinks.

His man management method is summed up by his quote, I told them we can win, draw or lose with dignity, respecting the club’s name and fans. But, if not, I will reduce their holiday, which, in a way, is fairly refreshing.


What next Paolo?

It seems to be the Premier League players were a little less enamoured by Di Canio than the Swindon players were and therefore less inclined to put up with his techniques. I think this is the key for Di Canio and if he ever wants to be a Premier League manager he will have to abandon his dictatorial principles. However, he could become useful again for a club in the lower leagues with seemingly limitless patience. Don’t even think about it Wednesday.

Classic Di Canio Quotes

  • “One second, Winterburn is barking at me like a dog. The next he is wetting his pants. All I did was look at him.”
  • “Doping in England is restricted to lager and baked beans with sausages. After which the players take to the field belching and farting.”
  • “Totti had said that he wouldn’t sit at the same table and have dinner with me. I said that was no great loss, because if you tell Totti that there are tensions in the Middle East, he’ll think that a fight has broken out on the right side of midfield.”
  • “When I was warming up, someone told me that my shorts were on backwards. I hadn’t noticed. Before the game, the manager said: ‘Come on Paolo, put them right.’ ‘No way!’ I told him. ‘Are you crazy?’ he said. But I knew it was a sign. We won 2-1 at Upton Park, I scored both and we beat Arsenal for the first time in 14 years.”
  • “I’ve said that from now if someone comes inside with a mobile phone, even in their bag, I’ll throw it in the North Sea. They’re banned.”
  • “Normally I can tell you I’m very angry, but today it was difficult – it was too poor that it was really difficult to say something. I don’t think that even the most arrogant player in the world could argue if you said the first two goals were absolute rubbish.”
  • ‘The shopping is not finished and before the pre-season starts I would like to bring in another two players. I like shopping, maybe I have become a woman.”
  • (Regarding comments from Steve Evans) “I’ve never heard his name. I don’t have anything to say to a person who is one of a million people talking about me in the world so I’m happy for him if he has one line in the national newspaper. I laughed in the face of 70,000 Man Utd fans when I scored, you could imagine what it would be like if I was worried by the words of him.”
  • (On his fear of flying) “The thought of dying in a plane crash is so difficult because there’s absolutely nothing you can do. According to the Samurai philosophy, there is always a chance that you can overcome a challenge. Let’s say that you release some lions into this room…now, in the mind of a Samurai, there is always the possibility that you could beat them. Or at least do something. Like fight and die with honour. Die like a warrior. But what can I do on a plane that’s crashing – fight the guy next to me? I’d rather take my chance with the lions.”

by David Pettinger (@DavidPettinger1)