Some of you that come across this article might be too young to remember just how special Paolo Di Canio was for the Hammers at the turn of the 21st Century.
He was among the few players to turn down an approach from Sir Alex Ferguson, who greatly admired the unique Italian striker.
Averaging nearly a goal every two games for West Ham, Di Canio was one of the best strikers in the league for several years, and if he had been at one of the clubs with money at the top of the league, who knows whether he would have gone on to do tremendous things at Manchester United, who were the most successful club in England at the time.
As a manager, he managed to grab just as many headlines as he did as a player. Following a big casino win, Sunderland player Phil Bardsley, whom Di Canio managed at the time, was pictured in a casino covered in £50 notes.
So enraged by a display of such gratuitous wealth, he fined the defender for his actions and benched him for the next game. Just like in online poker, there’s never a dull moment with Paolo.
We all know he has been subject to fierce controversies in his footballing career. However, today we will focus on the positives and whittle down the top three goals whilst donning the Hammers jersey.
Chelsea (A) – 2001/02
In a rare win for the Hammers at Stamford Bridge, the game was marked with a moment of true brilliance from the Italian talisman. The game was back and forth for the first half. Then, three minutes into the second half, Paolo took a bouncing ball, teed it up for himself with his right foot, and smashed a volley from 25 yards out with his left foot in front of the jubilant Hammers away end.
If that wasn’t enough to send the frantic away end into fits of joy, following a Gianfranco Zola equalizer, Paolo won the game by grabbing a brace with 8 minutes left. This was just one of the many displays of his incredible talent, and the 3-2 win at Stamford Bridge was one of the high points of Di Canio’s time at Upton Park.
Arsenal (H) – 1999/00
During his first season at West Ham, fans didn’t take long to take to him with pure adoration, much like they had at Glasgow Celtic and Sheffield Wednesday. However, following an infamous altercation with a referee, where he was banned for ten games for pushing him to the floor, this acted as a catalyst for Harry Redknapp to swoop in and give Paolo a fresh start at another club.
One of the big moments of this season was a 2-1 win over Arsenal. Both goals came courtesy of Di Canio. The winning goal was sheer beauty. Having faked a shot on his stronger foot, he opened his body up and sidefooted the ball past England’s number one David Seaman.
Wimbledon (H) – 2000
This had to be number one, right? A goal that was widely considered the goal of the season, Trevor Sinclair floated in a teasing delivery for Di Canio to leave the ground altogether and volley the ball right back across the goal into the far corner. It’s hard to put into words just how special this goal was. If you watch it back on replays, you can see the crowd’s reaction and the rest of the players on the pitch, who knew they had just witnessed something extraordinary.
The goal is still the stuff of legend, widely discussed amongst Hammers fans, and a nostalgic reminder of days gone by with a team that contained so much talent.
The Bottom Line
Even though Paolo moved on in 2003, fans of the older generation who remember watching him play had nothing but praise for his sensational ability. Some of the goals we have covered today are gleaming examples of what he could do when he had the ball at his feet.
Having notched over 50 goals for West Ham, it was hard to boil this down to just three of his goals. However, we wouldn’t want to relegate Paolo’s ability to just a list of his top goals. He had a presence on the pitch that rarely went unmatched, just like many genius footballers that have come and gone since. Transferring his skills to football management, with varying success, he brought as many headlines from the touchlines as he did when he played the game.
The goals he scored were just an extension of a fiery, unpredictable, and genuinely magical footballer whom West Ham has never truly replaced, even twenty years later.
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