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Di Canio, Paolo
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PersonalFullname: Paolo Di Canio
Born: 9 July 1968
Birthplace: Rome, Italy
Signed: 31 May 1996 (£1m from AC Milan)
Left: 6 Aug 1997 (£3m to Sheffield Wed)
Position: Forward, Winger
BiogPaolo Di Canio only played one season in the Hoops but his impact both on and off the pitch was huge and even controversial.
He was brought to Celtic by then manager Tommy Burns in a £1m move from AC Milan in the summer of 1996. The signing was typical of Burns, a man never afraid to look further afield to uncover exciting attacking talent.
When Di Canio arrived at Celtic he joined a cosmopolitan squad that already boasted the considerable talents of Dutch striker Pierre Van Hoijdonk, German international Andreas Thom and Portugal’s Jorge Cadette. Together with Pierre & Jorge, the three were termed the "Three Amigos" by chairman Fergus McCann (in mock).
The arrival of the gifted but highly temperamental Italian not only provided Celtic with an abundance of riches in attack but sent out a clear signal of how Burns wanted his rebuilt Celtic to play. The fans were licking their lips in anticipation.
In some ways they were not to be disappointed. Celtic were sensational at times that season and in pure football terms could look streets ahead of any of their domestic rivals. But while their attacking forays were often a joy to watch the team was all too frequently undone by a defence too prone to making elementary and costly mistakes.
For his part Di Canio was a sensation. An outrageously gifted player, the skilful Italian rapidly became the darling of the fans. His flair was coupled with a real cutting edge which meant that more often than not his audacious ability not only entertained but produced that vital end product.
As is so often the case with players of Di Canio’s talent there was a real arrogance to his play and demeanour. That arrogance could make for great viewing as he teased the opposition but it didn’t always warm him to his team mates. In one of his early training sessions at Celtic Di Canio stormed off the practice ground vowing never to return.
The catalyst of this tantrum was the ability of his own team-mates – or rather lack of ability. After one stray pass too many Di Canio had enough. He stormed off the pitch and let Burns know in no uncertain terms that he thought the calibre of player he was asked to work with was beneath him. He may have had a point!
There can be few players who have ever been as animated on the football field as Di Canio but these regular displays of emotion only endeared him further to a support desperate for a hero to finally bring an end the dominance of an all conquering Rangers just one championship away from equalling Celtic’s record of nine titles in a row.
But even with Di Canio – either up front or out wide - Celtic far too often slipped up when it came to the crunch. They lost all four league encounters with Rangers and although the Italian scored a penalty in a 2-0 Scottish Cup quarter-final win over the Ibrox club the Hoops crashed out of the tournament after a replayed semi-final, embarrassingly losing out 1-0 to First Division Falkirk.
For all his talent and fight when it came to these crucial encounters it has to be said that Di Canio did not produce when it mattered most.
That Falkirk match signalled the end of Burns as Celtic manager and was the beginning of the end of Di Canio as a Bhoy. The Italian – who prior to Milan had played for Terrana, Lazio and Juventus – came to Glasgow with a reputation as a hot head.
It was a reputation he lived up to and his discipline on the pitch was poor, too often finding himself in confrontation with opponents and referees. He was labelled ‘fiery’ by the tabloids and there could be little argument with such a description.
But despite this Di Canio enjoyed a good relationship with Burns and when the manager was sacked he saw an opportunity to engineer his own departure from the club. Paolo was vocal in his disappointment in the axing of Burns and when the following pre-season came around he remained in Rome rather than return to Glasgow. He stated that a "little problem" had emerged regarding his contract with the club. On the one hand, he says that the club promised to revise his contract upwards if he had a good first season whilst the chairman says otherwise.
A cat and mouse game thus ensued between the club and the player with accusation and counter-accusation flying to and thro. Celtic vowed that Di Canio had signed a contract and would not be sold.
Just days after stating Di Canio was not for sale the player – in the infamous words of Celtic’s then Director of Football Jock Brown – was "traded" in a £4.5 million deal with Premiership side Sheffield Wednesday which saw Dutch winger Regi Blinker coming to Parkhead. A very poor trade as it was to prove in time. Jock Brown even tried to use it as vindication of his ability in his position but all it did was make us laugh and/or cringe.
Di Canio’s acrimonious departure from Celtic undoubtedly split the support. Many were furious that the club did not do more to keep such a uniquely gifted player. Chairman and majority shareholder Fergus McCann took the bulk of the flak. But the man who rescued the Hoops from the disastrous regime of the White/Kelly axis was not one to take such matters lying down.
He launched a blistering attack on Di Canio, Van Hoijdonk and Cadette – all who departed under a cloud of financial wrangling – branding them "the three amigos" and blasting what he viewed as their money grabbing antics. While the initial sympathy of some may have been with Di Canio the passing of time has seen the vast majority of the support firmly in McCann’s camp.
Consequently, for all his wonderful skill, the nature of Di Canio’s departure means that memories of him in the Hoops now leave a rather bitter taste in the mouth.
The Italian went on to make a major impact in the Premiership firstly with Wednesday and then West Ham and to a much lesser extent Charlton. He of course enhanced his image as a hot head further while in Sheffield with his infamous but comical push on ref Paul Allcock.
But it says everything about Di Canio’s ability that despite that notorious incident he will be remembered in England foremost as a truly great player. Despite being linked with Manchester United on a number of occasions Di Canio’s career down south was restricted to the Premiership’s more mediocre outfits. Consequently his only honour was a Goal of the Season award while with the Hammers.
He returned to Italy and Lazio – his beloved boyhood team – in 2004 at the age of 36. Now home in Rome another ugly side to his nature was to rear its head.
While in England Di Canio revealed in his autobiography that like many Lazio fans he had far-right wing views and admitted his admiration for wartime Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. Now at Lazio Di Canio saw fit to express these political feelings by giving a Nazi salute to the Rome club’s notorious right-wing supporters on a number of occasions, sparking outrage around the football world. He claimed that he's a fascist but not a racist! In many ways showed that he just followed and jumped on any cause, and his politics were simply very crude and populist, although in this case he'd fallen for a very nasty strand.
These antics and the player’s subsequent defence of his actions have made Di Canio a bit of a darling of the neo-fascist movement in his home land. Had his political leanings been known during his time in Glasgow it is likely his relationship with the Celtic support would have deteriorated rather rapidly, and he would have been a person non grata and punted! If his views were clear before he even signed, we'd have steered well clear of him.
These despicable shows of support of fascism have further isolated Di Canio from a Celtic support which for a very short time worshipped him. Now he is a figure loathed almost universally by the Hoops fans. In total Di Canio scored 15 goals in 38 appearances for Celtic. He will always be remembered as wonderfully gifted (albeit greedy) footballer but alas also as a rather pathetic person.
|Club||From||To||Fee||League||Scottish Cup||League cup||Other|
|Celtic||31/05/1996||06/08/1997||£ 1,000,000 |
(left: £3m out)
|26 (1)||12||6 (0)||3||2 (0)||0||2 (1)||0|
Quotes'Even when we played the likes of Raith Rovers or Dunfermline, the referees would be against us. That's because in Scotland it's always a two horse race, and by hurting us, they were helping Rangers.'
Paolo di Canio, 2000
'There was hatred in the Old Firm and I soaked it up. I used it to my advantage. I knew perfectly well it was about religion and while, i did not understand or wish to get involved in the dispute, I would feed off it.'
Paolo di Canio, 2000
"What I don't like is how 90% of refs in Scotland are Protestant and I am playing for a Catholic club. They are shameless."
Paolo di Canio
"When they attacked we were four players down."
Tommy Burns on fielding Paolo di Canio, Jorge Cadette, Andy Thom and Piere van Hooijdonk in a UEFA Cup game defeat against Hamburg, 1996
“I had a confrontation with Tommy because I was upset in a training session and I was ready to leave. But he came to me and hugged me like a brother with an energy that was an inspiration to me. He was like my older brother, he made me feel like a part of the family.”
Di Canio on Tommy Burns
"I've said all down the line that our position is that Paolo is not for sale."
General Manager Jock Brown on Paolo Di Canio 1997
"He (Di Canio) wasn't sold. He was traded. The only way to get (Regi) Blinker was to involve Di Canio. He was used as a trading tool to get Blinker."
Jock Brown 1997
"I have managed a few nutters in my time, but Di Canio takes the biscuit."
Ron Atkinson (Apr 27, 1998)
"Paolo di Canio was the best player I've ever managed and possibly the best player I ever will manage. He was also the most passionate footballer I've ever come across.
Former Celtic manager Tommy Burns (Sept 26, 1998)
"I want to be at Celtic for the rest of my career. I love the club and I love the fans, too. They've been incredible to me. I love Glasgow as well."
Di Canio after being named Scotland's Player of the Year.(May 16, 1997)
"It saddens me that he suggests he might have played his last game for Celtic. In that case, the world of football will be denied his supreme talents for a period of three years because he will not be playing for anyone else in that time."
Celtic general manager Jock Brown as their relationship with Di Canio rapidly starts to disintegrate. (July 9, 1997)
Subbuteo team was reason I joined Celtic, admits Paolo Di CanioDec 24 2008 By Anthony Haggerty
PAOLO DI CANIO has revealed it was his dream to play for Celtic after being captivated by their famous green and white hooped kit when he played Subbuteo as a kid.
The Italian scored 15 goals in 37 appearances for the club during season 1996-97.
In a Sky Sports programme entitled Where Are They Now? Christmas Special, Di Canio, tells of his passion for Celtic and how fans took him to their hearts because he was a supporter just like them.
He said he was overcome by emotion when he finally got to live his dream.
Di Canio, who also played for AC Milan, West Ham, Lazio, Juventus and Napoli, said: "When I was young I would play Subbuteo with my friend.
"There was a squad with horizontal green and white lines. I was captivated by the colours of the shirt. I decided if one day I became a footballer I would like to play in Scotland.
"After 10 years playing in Italy an offer came from Glasgow and I decided straight away to go to Celtic because my dreams would come true.
"The first time I wore the Celtic shirt was emotional for me. I was like a child who has just received a big present."
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