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  • Writer's pictureDag Jenkins

Paolo Di Canio

Paolo Di Canio was born in Rome, on July 9, 1968.

Source Wikipedia

He grew up in the Quarticciolo, a working-class district in East Rome. His family and three brothers are Roma fans but Paolo is always one to go against the flow and opted for Lazio. He was overweight and not a natural (he was knock-kneed and wore orthopaedic shoes) but he had character and exercised himself into shape.

He started playing football for a small local team, Pro Tevere Roma, but at 16 joined the Lazio youth sector. In this period, he still followed Lazio's first team home and away as a fan (even risking disciplinary measures from the club).

At 18 he was loaned out to Ternana (Terni in nearby Umbria region in C2). Here he found Lazio 1974 scudetto winners Mario Facco as his coach and Vincenzo D'Amico as teammate. He made 27 appearances for the Rossoverdi with 2 goals but also suffered a career threatening injury (even risking to lose a foot).

He recovered and in 1988 returned home to Lazio in Serie A. He made his debut away against Cesena (0-0) on October 9 ,1988. In his first season under manager Giuseppe Materazzi he performed well and played 30 league games with one goal but it was no ordinary goal.

In his debut in a Roman derby on January 15, 1988 Di Canio scored the only goal of the match to give Lazio derby glory after a decade. It was an excellent goal but what would be remembered even more was his celebration. In emulation of his hero Giorgio Chinaglia the youngster from Quarticciolo ran towards the Roma fan sector with his arm outstretched and index finger in the air towards the curva sud, an audacious gesture for a 20-year-old but understandable considering his background. A legendary goal and celebration, already making Di Canio a club hero.

The following season he played 24 league games and scored 3 goals (including the winner in a 1-0 home win over Juventus). He was gradually attracting more and more attention from the rich and powerful northern clubs.

In 1990 Lazio president Gian Marco Calleri sold Di Canio to Juventus for 7.5 billion Lire (approx. 3.5 million Euros). He did so totally against Di Canio's wishes but he was forced to go. The fans were misinformed about the dynamics of the sale so for a period took against the player. There is the story of Di Canio watching a Lazio match in a hotel while in pre-match retreat with Juventus and, hearing the Lazio fans hostile chants against him, he broke into tears. The truth however would gradually emerge and Di Canio would not be considered a traitor for long.

At Juventus he played for three seasons before falling out with manager Giovanni Trapattoni. He made 78 league appearances (6 goals), 19 in Coppa Italia (1 goal) and 14 in Europe. At Juventus he won the UEFA Cup (1992-93).

In 1993 he moved South to Naples. He would stay only one season but it was a positive one with 26 league games (5 goals) and one game in Coppa Italia.

One of his 5 league goals was a superb one against Milan who then would sign him in 1994. He played two seasons for the Rossoneri without ever really becoming a first-choice player. He made 37 league appearances (6 goals), 6 in Coppa Italia (1 goal) and ten in European competitions. With Milan he won a Scudetto in 1995-96 and a UEFA Super Cup in 1994. He left Milan in 1996 again after problems with the manager, this time Fabio Capello.

In 1996 he started the British chapter of his career. The first stop was Glasgow, Scotland where he joined Celtic. He had an excellent season playing 37 times and scoring 15 times. He was voted SPFA Player of the Year. His time in Scotland was not without controversy including sendings off and aggressive behaviour especially in the Old Firm derby. At the end of the season he demanded a substantial pay rise and was soon on his way south of the border to Yorkshire, England.

In 1997 Di Canio signed for Sheffield Wednesday in the English top flight. He had a great first season with the Owls and scored 14 goals in 40 appearances (35 in the Premier League). His second season soon hit disaster. In September 1998 in a home game against Arsenal Di Canio got involved in an on-pitch scuffle which culminated in him pushing the referee, Paul Alcock, to the ground. The actual push was not particularly violent but the referee, caught off guard, exaggerating the fall or maybe just uncoordinated, went sprawling several metres and ended up collapsing in an undignified, ungainly heap. Di Canio would not play for Sheffield Wednesday again. He was obviously massacred in the media and by the FA receiving an 11-match ban and a ten thousand pound fine.

In January 1999 Di Canio needed a change and he continued south to London. He signed for West Ham United. The Hammers gave the Italian a lifeline, the Italian grabbed it and flourished in East London.

In his first half season he played 13 league games and scored 4 goals and helped West Ham achieve a high league position (5th). He was also the OPTA player of the season.

In his second season he scored the BBC goal of the season, a flying volley, one of the best in Premiership history. He was also voted Hammer of the Year. In December 2000 he redeemed himself in the public eye. In an away game at Everton he shunned a goal scoring opportunity because an opponent was lying seriously injured. Di Canio picked the ball up with his hands and gestured to the player on the ground receiving a standing ovation for his sportsmanship. The following year he was awarded the FIFA Fair Play Award.

Despite Sir Alex Ferguson's attempts to get Di Canio to Manchester United the Roman stayed in London for another year and a half, out of gratitude for West Ham having given him a chance when no-one else would go near him.

In the 2002-03 season however, Di Canio fell out with manager Glenn Roeder and West Ham were languishing at the bottom of the table. Di Canio returned at the end of the season (Roeder had health issues and was replaced by club hero Trevor Brooking) and scored a winner against Chelsea but could ultimately not avoid the Hammers getting relegated.

He was released on a free transfer and moved just down the road to south-east London. At West Ham he played 118 league games (47 goals), 13 in domestic cups (3 goals) and 10 in Europe. He was immensely popular at Upton Park and is considered one of West Ham's greats.

In 2003-04 he signed for Charlton Athletic. He stayed one season at The Valley and the Addicks finished 7th, their highest position since the 1950s. He continued to be a provider of goals and also scored 4 himself but all from the penalty spot (one 'Panenka' style against Arsenal). He made 31 league appearances for the Red Robins plus 1 in the FA Cup and 1 in the League Cup (1 goal). In 2004 however, destiny called.

In the summer of 2004 despite having signed an extension to his contract at The Valley Di Canio had the chance to make a romantic end of career return to his boyhood team Lazio. It was an opportunity he could not miss and taking a massive pay cut he was back with the Biancocelesti. The fans were ecstatic to have a local Lazio supporter in the team, especially after the traumatic departure of Alessandro Nesta in 2002.

Lazio were recovering from financial difficulties and were economically stretched. The new president Lotito had bought nine players on the last day of the market, some of them unknown. Di Canio alongside Tommaso Rocchi added some much-needed quality to a struggling team.

In his first year back, he played 23 league games (6 goals), 1 in Coppa Italia and 5 in Europe (1 goal). He performed well, still showing the class he was renowned for. The peak of his year and Lazio’s came again in the city derby.

Lazio were in huge trouble in the league, had just replaced their manager (Giuseppe Papadopulo took over from Domenico Caso) and were also missing their two central defenders (Fernando Couto and Sebastiano Siviglia). Things were not looking good against a clearly superior Roma side. But Di Canio did it again 16 years later.

Again, in January, this time on the 6th, Di Canio stunned Roma. The Roma fans had been taunting him all season about his age, how he was finished and how he had left Lazio while Totti (their local boy idol) had stayed.

In the 29th minute Di Canio latched on to a high Fabio Liverani through ball over the Roma defence and getting between two defenders he hammered in a mid-height volley past Pelizzoli. Sixteen years later Di Canio was again celebrating in front of the Curva Sud. This time with even more passion but despite all the ensuing polemic, no vulgarity (unlike some of Totti's T-shirt celebrations).

Di Canio had a great game and Lazio went on to triumph 3-1. In the 90th minute he was replaced by Simone Inzaghi. The stadium almost came down, a standing ovation from one end and insults and anger from the other. Leaving the field (after more 'divergences of opinion' with various opposition players, Dellas in particular) Di Canio still had some more theatrics up his sleeve for the shell-shocked Roma fans. In response to the pre-derby comments he first gestured the number 3 with his fingers (no need to explain that one), he then pretended to walk like a groggy old man and finally pointed to the bald patch on his head. "I might be 34 but I've done it again, I'm your eternal nightmare".

In his second season Di Canio also played regularly with 27 league appearances (5 goals), 1 game in Coppa Italia and 4 in Europe (2 goals). He was however starting to embarrass the club and many Lazio fans with his political gestures.

Known for his right-wing political views and admiration for Benito Mussolini (but he claims to reject racism), Di Canio twice made the Roman Salute gesture to the Curva Nord (where the organized group of fans, the Irriducibili at the time, had similar political tendencies). The gesture may have pleased a minority but it displeased the majority of Lazio fans, sick and tired of being associated with fascism. He was fined and suspended for a match, and the club too were not happy with the negative backlash of his behaviour. At the end of the season after further contrasts with President Lotito, Di Canio left Lazio. His second spell had been successful on the pitch but marred by too much unnecessary political controversy. He had played another 50 games and scored 11 goals.

In 2006 Di Canio then joined local Roman team Cisco Roma in C2. He played until March 2008 when due to persistent injuries he decided to retire. His last ever match was fitting, he scored two goals but was sent off for insulting the referee. He made 46 appearances and scored 14 goals.

At International level Di Canio played 9 matches for Italy U21's scoring 2 goals. He won a bronze medal at the 1990 U21 European Championship.

After retiring he got into beach soccer playing for the Italian national team (not surprising with his acrobatic skills).

He then tried management in England. He took over at Swindon Town in May 2011 and won promotion to League One the following year. He then resigned halfway through the next season after contrasts with the owners.

In March 2013 he became manager of Sunderland (with initial local scepticism due to his alleged political views). He managed to keep the Black Cats in the Premier League but was sacked after five games of the following season.

Di Canio then turned to punditry. He worked for Mediaset Premium, Fox Sports and now Sky. He has his own program" Di Canio Premier Show". He is knowledgeable, well spoken, direct and well liked as the "English Expert".

Di Canio played 616 professional games in his career and scored 148 goals. He was an attacking midfielder or winger. He was extremely talented and creative with excellent dribbling skills. He was a quick thinking and intelligent player and exciting to watch. His goals were often spectacular, confirming his acrobatic skills. A defect was his fiery temperament which let him down several times over his career.

At Lazio he is a legend. Despite only playing 124 games (20 goals) over two spells (104 in Serie A with 15 goals, 10 in Coppa Italia with 2 goals, 5 in the UEFA Cup with one goal, 4 in the Intertoto Cup with 2 goals and one Super Coppa final), he is considered a Lazio hero. A local fan who always wore his heart on his sleeve when playing for the Biancocelesti and defended them on and off the field. Many Lazio fans (myself included) tended to turn a blind eye on his political antics and just tried to appreciate him as a player and character (which he certainly is, take him or leave him). His two goals in city derbies, sixteen years between them, are legendary folklore on the Biancoceleste side of Rome.

Lazio Career


Total games (goals)

Serie A

Coppa Italia


Intertoto Cup

Super Coppa


36 (2)

30 (1)

6 (1)





26 (4)

24 (3)

2 (1)





30 (7)

23 (6)


5 (1)




32 (7)

27 (5)



4 (2)



124 (20)

104 (15)

10 (2)

5 (1)

4 (2)




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