Paolo Di Canio’s love of kicking things became abundantly clear on September 26, 1998, when a swift flick out at Martin Keown and a subsequent push of a referee earned the then Sheffield Wednesday man an 11-game ban.
It was an incident that saw the Italian branded a psychopath, a loose cannon, a man who could not be trusted whatsoever. Most people agreed with that, but not Harry Redknapp.
Redknapp took a chance on this rogue outsider the following, dropping a cool £1.5m to bring Di Canio to West Ham United and justifying the risk by saying: “He can do things with the ball that people can only dream of.”
On March 26, 2000, we saw exactly what Redknapp was talking about.
West Ham‘s meeting with Wimbledon arrived with a fair bit of hype, largely because it was the debut of striker Freddie Kanoute, who had joined the Hammers on loan from Lyon. Fans were keen to see him do something special and mark his debut with a wonder strike.
Kanoute did find the back of the net, and it actually proved to be the winning goal for West Ham, but his effort has been drowned out over time y one of the most outstanding strikes the English game has ever seen.
Just nine minutes into the game, a deep cross from Trevor Sinclair arrowed its way towards Di Canio on the corner of the Wimbledon box, but for some reason, the Italian seemed to take a few steps away from the ball. He didn’t look like a man who wanted to control the ball.
Well, that’s because he wasn’t.
Instead of trying to trap the ball, Di Canio chose to unleash a picture-perfect scissor kick – the kind you usually don’t have enough fingers for to pull off in a video game – and arrowed the ball across the goal and into the corner of the net with terrifying precision.
The technique on show was superb, but half the fun was Di Canio’s arrogance. To have the audacity to even attempt that kind of thing in a country in which 90% of fans see you as the pantomime villain and hate your guts is what made this goal so special, and it single-handedly reversed the way people saw him.
But who does Di Canio have to thank for his resurgence? Redknapp’s faith? Sinclair’s cross? His own genius?
Nope. Everton winger Danny Cadamarteri.
Cadamarteri’s trickery had left Wimbledon left-back Alan Kimble completely dumfounded just a few weeks earlier, and it kick-started a vicious downturn in form which left the defender desperate to make things right against West Ham.
Within minutes, Kimble had scythed down Sinclair, earning himself a warning from the official. On a tightrope already, Kimble was paralysed when Sinclair came running at him again a few minutes later, so he sat back. Just far enough to gift the West Ham man enough space to pull out a corker of a cross.
Kimble’s loss was Di Canio’s gain. The Italian needed just a matter of seconds to flip the entire narrative and establish himself as a hero, not a villain.
As we all know, there isn’t much in football that a worldie can’t solve.