Di Canio The Great Storyteller


I remember the 1996-97 Scottish Premier League very well.

Rangers clinched nine in a row and for the first time in that era Celtic looked like real title contenders.

Tommy Burns managed to build a very exciting squad, with the ‘three amigos’ being the focal point for that team. Paulo Di Canio was a star ‘amigo’ that season scoring 12 league goals in 24 appearances.

He would then leave Parkhead under a cloud.

Basically he downed tools and refused to return for pre-season in the summer of 97. He claimed he was guaranteed a better deal if he played well in his first season. Celtic owner Fergus McCann denied this and told the player he had the contract on his desk and no such  clause was in there.

Eventually Di Canio would leave Scotland for the English Premier League.

So the irony of Di Canio slamming the Sunderland players for being unprofessional wasn’t lost on me at all.

The Italian’s career is peppered with similar unsavoury episodes.

He fell out with AC Milan head coach Fabio Capello, over tactics of all things. He was subbed off in a friendly against a Chinese club during Capello’s last days and Paulo fell into a rage. A hectic shoving match ensued. Now you could probably argue with Fabio Capello over many things but tactics especially during his Milan days wouldn’t and shouldn’t be one of them.

But that sums Paulo Di Canio up. He has the ego the size of Italy and is extremely volatile.

We all remember the incident that defined his time at Sheffield Wednesday, when he shoved over referee Paul Alcock. Now don’t get me wrong, Alcock’s comedy fall was hilarious, but the audacity of Di Canio to put his hands on the official was disgraceful.

At West Ham he was a fantastic footballer. You couldn’t argue he wasn’t skilful and inventive. He could be a joy to watch. But at times he would just stop playing because he wanted to have moan at the ref.

Even at his hometown club Lazio, Di Canio couldn’t remain professional and stay out of trouble. His fascist salutes to the Lazio ultras made him a hero with the fans but not with the wider football community or with the clubs owner. He seems incapable of grasping reality.

At Swindon he would have public slanging matches with his own players, with regular threats from him stating that they would never play under him again. A tune he would often sing at Sunderland too.

As a coach his ego only seemed to become larger. It always had to be his way. He never had room for compromise.

Now I have detailed all these unprofessional episodes during Di Canio’s career but according to the Italian they were never down to him.

At Milan, Capello shouldn’t have subbed him.

For Di Canio, Paul Alcock’s despairing tumble made things look worse than they were.

At West Ham the refs should have given him the ‘correct’ decisions.

In Rome he was only behaving like a Lazio fan and the owner was wrong not him.

At Sunderland it was no different.

The players were unprofessional, unfit and not good enough. The director of football Roberto De Fanti brought in too many players and they weren’t his suggested targets. Ellis Short, Sunderland’s owner, was weak and should have given him more time.

See Di Canio loves to spin a story. He will take any credit going and try and deflect all the blame.

He states he saved Sunderland! That isn’t strictly true. When Martin O’Neil was dismissed the side were lying 16th. Yes they were in a woeful run of form but still not in the relegation zone.

Under the Roman they would finish 17th. He picked up eight points from a possible 21. They also lost 6-1 to fellow relegation threatened side Aston Villa.

His sides 3-0 away win over local rivals Newcastle was certainly the highlight of the Italian’s tenure. But the thing is, there is nothing to suggest that O’Neill couldn’t have saved the club from relegation also.

Plus Di Canio can’t slate the players for his sacking and also say he saved the club. Surely the they both had a hand in the success and the sides failures.

Now for me the ultimate act of unprofessionalism was not caused by Philip Bardsley tweeting or Lee Cattermole’s tackling. It has to be Di Canio throwing John O’Shea under the bus. (Obviously not literally or that would be the most unprofessional act ever!)

I am not sure Di Canio’s recollections of O’Shea chats with him in his office are true. But even if they were, such comments should have remained between them. To come out and say O’Shea was critical of his teammates and his new international manager, is just the acts of a bitter man.

It doesn’t matter how many times Paulo tries to rewrite history, most of us with any kind of memory will always see through him.

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