The only negative of the season was his costly mistake against West Ham in the Fourth Round of the FA Cup. He believed Paolo Di Canio was offside as he broke in to United’s box, lifting his arm in the air to gain the attention of the linesman. The linesman’s flag stayed down, but Bathez kept his arm in the air, hoping psyche out the West Ham forward. Di Canio carried on towards the goal and flicked the ball past our keeper, knocking United out of the FA Cup.
“He tried to stop me,” said Di Canio afterwards. “He tried to make my brain a little bit confused. But I have played 15 years at the top level and have a little bit of experience in these sitautions.”
Di Canio enjoyed a footballing career than lasted longer than two decades, playing for Lazio, Juventus, AC Milan, Celtic, Sheffield Wednesday, Charlton Athletic, as well as his longest stint with a club at West Ham.
There are several sides to Di Canio, ranging from the incredibly impressive to the disappointing and embarrassing. In 2000, as the Everton goal lay stranded out of his goal, injured after running out to the ball, West Ham saw the opportunity to score. As the ball was crossed to Di Canio, he caught it, stopping play and shunning the chance to put the ball in the open net, allowing the keeper to receive treatment. Admirable.
Then there was the shove on the referee after he got sent off for Wednesday, yet even more alarmingly, his fascist salutes after scoring once he’d returned to Italy. After facing criticism, he responded by saying he would “always salute as I did yesterday because it gives me a sense of belonging to my people.” Hmm.
Regardless, as a footballer, there was a touch of quality about him, and Sir Alex Ferguson has today claimed that had we been successful in signing him, he could have become great.
After selling Andy Cole and Teddy Sheringham, Fergie wanted to sign Di Canio to partner Ruud van Nistelrooy. However, not prepared to pay West Ham’s asking price as well as being unable to find a buyer for Dwight Yorke, the deal fell through.
“Di Canio would have been capable of becoming a truly great player at Manchester United,” Ferguson said. “I mean, he was a great player. But when you have a player like Di Canio, who expresses himself as an individual, like Best and Cantona did, and Giggs, Rooney, Ronaldo and Berbatov do… we make heroes quickly here. Di Canio could have been in that category.”
Do you wish we’d signed Di Canio?