Ranking the 5 most iconic moments in Paolo Di Canio's career
On the 20-year anniversary of one of the best goals in Premier League history, we celebrate the career of West Ham's favourite Italian.
Shedding a tear (May 2003)
There’s no getting away from it.
Relegation is tough to take as a fan, especially when the players of the team you support are clearly unaffected by it.
That is what makes this show of emotion from Di Canio so important.
Despite him scoring the winner against Chelsea in the final home game of the 2002/03 season, West Ham remained in the relegation zone on goal difference going into their away game at Birmingham.
It was likely that the Italian had played his last game for the club, but he was candid in a remarkable post-match interview with broadcast Gabriel Clarke.
Speaking in the tunnel, Di Canio’s voice crackled and broke when discussing his future beyond West Ham and as he told Clarke that the club’s fans “don’t deserve to play in the First Division”.
He felt the Hammers’ plight along with the supporters, and that matters.
St James’ Park kneeslide (April 2013)
The only thing better than a 3-0 win in your biggest rival’s backyard?
Doing it while your manager celebrates each goal as if he’s won the World Cup, Champions League and Ballon d’Or all rolled into one.
For anyone who thought that Di Canio would mellow after his transition from the to the touchline, this was a sign that his enthusiasm remained permanently at Duracell Bunny level.
In only his second game in charge of Sunderland, the Italian ensured he will never have to buy a drink on Wearside again after masterminding his side’s first victory at St James’ Park in 13 years.
It was an important victory in the context of the season, too, ensuring the Black Cats went three points clear of the relegation zone, while simultaneously dragging Newcastle towards the bottom three.
And the new boss made sure everyone knew, celebrating going 2-0 up with a now-iconic knee slide down the touchline.
So lively were his touchline antics, that a wound-up John Carver admitted after the game that he “wanted to take the law into his own hands”.
Beating the offside trap (January 2001)
It might seem strange that an FA Cup fourth-round goal would make this list. But this wasn’t any normal goal.
West Ham travelled to Old Trafford to face a Manchester United side that had withdrawn from the tournament the previous season to play in the inaugural Club World Cup.
It was not a kind draw. United were 13 points clear at the top of the table. The Hammers were in 12th, nine points above the relegation zone.
But that didn’t stop Di Canio embarrassing United goalkeeper Fabien Barthez and justifying exactly why Sir Alex Ferguson had reportedly been so keen on signing him.
The striker latched onto a through ball from Fredi Kanoute in the 76th minute, eluding every player in a static United defence.
Barthez’s attempt to prevent a goal was unconventional: rather than readying himself to save the incoming shot, he instead raised his hand and pretended Di Canio had been flagged offside.
But Di Canio was unflappable. He poked the ball into the far corner of the goal before racing to the away end with his arms outstretched in delirium.
“He tried to make my brain a little confused,” Di Canio said afterwards. “But I have played 15 years at the top level and have a little bit of experience in these situations.”
Catching the ball (December 2000)
For a player who was once banned for 11 games for pushing a referee to the ground, Di Canio probably wouldn’t have been at the top of most people’s list to win a FIFA Fair Play Award.
But that was before this astonishing show of sportsmanship.
West Ham were drawing 1-1 with Everton in the 90th minute, having only equalised with seven minutes to go, and could have gone into the top six with a winner.
As they pushed forward, Toffees goalkeeper raced out to block Fredi Kanoute’s run but injured himself in the process and laid prone outside his box.
The ball broke to Trevor Sinclair, who crossed it into Di Canio with an open goal to aim at.
But instead of winning the game for his side, he caught the ball to allow Gerrard to receive treatment for what turned out to be a dislocated shoulder.
Although team-mate Stuart Pearce reportedly wanted to “rip his head off” for passing up the opportunity to win the game, the striker’s act of charity was admirable.
That goal (March 2000)
🥳 Happy 20th birthday to the greatest volley in Premier League history. pic.twitter.com/juPBDn1xTn— betway (@betway) March 26, 2020
It had to be top, didn’t it?
Simply, Di Canio’s volley against Wimbledon was – and still is – one of the greatest Premier League goals of all time.
As Sinclair’s cross floated across the box, the Italian watched the ball onto the outside of his right foot as he hammered a first-time scissor-kick straight past Wimbledon goalkeeper Neil Sullivan.
Despite coming only 24 hours after Paul Scholes’ rocketed volley against Bradford City, Di Canio’s effort was rightly awarded BBC Goal of the Season for the 1999/00 season.
On the technique required, he later said: “The percentage of difficulty is 99 per cent. But if you see a change in the air, it is a harmony that only the dancer can have.”
Goalkeeper Sullivan, meanwhile, said of his attempts to save it: “It was more of a fall than a dive as it came off his foot like a bullet.”
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