Di Canio’s Celtic years: good, bad and ugly

SUNDERLAND last night sacked Paolo Di Canio just 13 games into his reign as manager. The Italian firebrand’s first taste of British football was with Celtic in 1996. A glimpse at The Scotsman’s archive shows the good, bad and ugly side to the talented but temperamental playmaker who was signed by Tommy Burns from AC Milan.
Paolo Di Canio salutes Celtic's fans after joining the club in 1996. Picture: Allan Milligan/TSPLPaolo Di Canio salutes Celtic's fans after joining the club in 1996. Picture: Allan Milligan/TSPL
Paolo Di Canio salutes Celtic's fans after joining the club in 1996. Picture: Allan Milligan/TSPL

The Rome-born attacking midfielder lasted just one season at Celtic Park - combining brilliance with occasional badness. He repeatedly clashed with Old Firm rivals Rangers, scooped a player of the year award and then left under a cloud after inflated wage demands. Di Canio moved on to Sheffield Wednesday before becoming a West Ham United legend.

After spells with Charlton, Lazio and Cisco Roma he moved into coaching before returning to the UK as a manager with Swindon Town. Di Canio was a success with the Robins, leading them to promotion from League 2 but resigned in February of this year as he clashed with the club’s hierarchy over finance.

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Sunderland sprang a major surprise on 31 March when they announced they had appointed Di Canio - a novice with no Premier League managerial experience - to succeed the departed Martin O’Neill. He became an instant hero when he led the team to a famous 3-0 win over arch-rivals Newcastle at St James’ Park, but this season has been a different story. After just one point from the opening five games, and with Sunderland stranded at the bottom of the table, he has been axed.

Here are some memorable moments from the archive of his solitary season in Glasgow . . .

17 March 1997

‘Old Firm go to war’

UGLINESS yesterday pervaded a frenzied finale to the last Old Firm game of the season as the tension of trying to prevent Rangers from winning the championship got the better of an indisciplined Celtic team whose title hopes were left in tatters.

Defender Malky Mackay was sent off for two bookable offences while Mark Hateley’s return to a tribal atmosphere lasted 63 minutes before the Rangers forward was shown a red card after appearing to head-butt goalkeeper Stewart Kerr.

Celtic’s depth of disappointment - they are eight points behind Rangers with six games to play - was there for all to see when misbehaviour reared its head after the final whistle.

Paolo Di Canio, the most volatile temperament within Celtic’s squad, behaved aggressively towards Ian Ferguson and gestured in the direction of Rangers’ bench as he was led from the field by team-mates. The Italian was called to the referee’s room after the teams had returned to the dressing room and was shown another yellow card.

Tommy Burns, Celtic’s manager, denied that Di Canio had been ordered off after the final whistle but said that the player’s actions could be the subject of a report from Hugh Dallas, the match referee.

Mayhem followed the final whistle and Joachim Bjorklund, Rangers’ Swedish defender, was seen to react angrily to a young Celtic supporter who ran on to the field and gestured towards him.

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A total of five Celtic players -Kerr, Mackay, Di Canio, his fellow countryman Enrico Annoni, and Peter Grant - were booked. Richard Gough, Craig Moore, Ian Durrant and Charlie Miller of Rangers were shown yellow cards.

Hateley’s dismissal meant he became the first Rangers player to be sent off in a domestic match for almost two years. The last Ibrox player to be red carded in Scottish football was goalkeeper Billy Thomson in a 3-0 defeat by Celtic in May 1995, more than 100 games ago.

It is the catalogue of failure facing Celtic’s manager which will concern him and the club’s directors most of all. For the first time in the 22-year history of the Premier Division, Celtic have lost all four league meetings with Rangers in a single season.

28 April 1997

‘Di Canio is the man’

PAOLO Di Canio, of Celtic, has been chosen as Scotland’s Player of the Year at a time when he is the subject of controversy on and off the park and could become a legal guinea pig in a disagreement between the SFA and the players’ union.

The Scottish Professional Footballers Association last night made the Italian the fourth foreigner in succession to win its award, following on from Rangers’ Brian Laudrup, Paul Gascoigne and Mark Hateley.

Supporters, though, will be given the opportunity to see Di Canio only once more this season because of a suspension which could open up calls for a review of the SFA’s punishment system. Di Canio was booked by Willie Young, the referee who handled Celtic’s Scottish Cup semi-final against Falkirk last week, for allegedly diving and trying to win a penalty kick.

Television evidence later showed that physical contact had taken place and the referee had made a mistake. The booking for Di Canio put him over the disciplinary points threshold and he now misses Celtic’s last two games of the season, against Kilmarnock and Dundee United. He is eligible for Sunday’s game against Hibs at Easter Road.

At present there is no appeals procedure which can correct a mistake. The SPFA would like to see Scotland brought into line with England, where referees can make retrospective decisions based on TV evidence.

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The players’ union has asked managers to register their protests to the SFA by letter and another case, involving a Premier Division player who was sent off for allegedly punching an opponent, is already before the SFA for reconsideration.

Di Canio’s award, meanwhile, comes at a time when Celtic have been obliged to issue a statement denying that the player is unsettled at the club. The volatile Italian chose the morning after the cup defeat inflicted by Falkirk to say that he had a “little problem” with Celtic and subsequently threatened to make public his grievance.


Last night, however, the player reaffirmed his commitment to the club for the rest of his four-year contract. “I, and the rest of the players, want to play for the club’s dignity over the last few games of the season,” he said in Glasgow while wearing full Highland regalia in order to receive his trophy.

“I am half happy because this is not a good moment for me after the defeat from Falkirk in the Scottish Cup. It is a great honour, though, because the other players know football and can see ability and attitude.”

Di Canio has become inseparable from controversy since joining Celtic from AC Milan at the start of the season. The player was first of all accused of habitually trying to obtain an unfair advantage by diving in the penalty area by the same opponents who have now named him as their award winner.

There was then a censure from the SFA for saying that 90 per cent of Scotland’s referees were Protestant and therefore biased against Celtic.

The governing body has now to fully investigate Di Canio’s behaviour at the end of the last Old Firm league match, when the player had to be restrained as he went to remonstrate with Rangers’ Ian Ferguson. The Ibrox player alleged that Di Canio had threatened to break his leg.

The after-match scenes have prompted the SFA to call Dominic Keane and Campbell Ogilvie, the Old Firm secretaries, to its offices next month. The likelihood must be that Di Canio will be punished for making provocative gestures and conducting himself in a threatening manner.

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Being named as Scotland’s Player of the Year, narrowly beating Laudrup in the ballot and overcoming his Celtic team-mate, Jorge Cadete, as well as David Weir (Hearts) will make Di Canio even more determined to answer his critics.

21 July 1997

‘End of the road’

PAOLO Di Canio has made himself a European outcast, outlawed from playing the game anywhere on the continent, by walking out on Celtic and flying back to his native Rome.

Jock Brown, Celtic’s general manager, yesterday accused the player of insulting the club and its supporters by turning his back on them immediately before the side plays Inter Cable-Tel, of Cardiff, in the UEFA Cup.

The club’s anger over Di Canio’s behaviour will now lead to a review of the options available to Celtic. Suspension without pay is one possibility, along with yet another fine for a player who has already been docked £50,000 for various breaches of contract.

Putting Di Canio up for transfer is the most severe - and likeliest - course of action since he seems incapable of grasping the concept of a contract as a legally binding agreement. The Italian clearly believes that he is a law unto himself and his advisers in the Eternal City do nothing to disabuse him of that notion. Matteo Roggi, who looks after Di Canio’s affairs in Rome, yesterday said that the player would be making a statement today on what steps he planned to take, conveniently overlooking the fact that he is not in a position to call the shots.

Di Canio’s business dealings in Britain are handled by a Manchester-based agency which is fronted by John Stiles, the son of the former England player, Nobby.

Brown and Stiles will this morning discuss what is to be done next about the recalcitrant Italian who says he is unhappy with his wages at Celtic Park.

£12,000 a week

A year ago Fergus McCann, Celtic’s owner, agreed to pay Di Canio approximately £12,000 a week, which was more money than he received at AC Milan or any of the other Serie A clubs he has played for. Brown has made no secret of the fact that the player now wants a wage increase which would lift his annual earnings towards £1 million a year.

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It is only the latest rift in a long running saga of conflict between player and club. Di Canio spent the day after Celtic’s Scottish Cup defeat from Falkirk in April publicly going over his problems with the club.

The player then threw his jersey into the crowd after the league game against Hibs at Easter Road which, because of SFA suspension, was his last of the season.

Before he left the ground, Di Canio began the first of his personal attacks on McCann. Now, the player says that Brown is ill-equipped to deal with his difficulties at Celtic Park because he has not been with the club long enough to know Di Canio’s situation. The general manager, who gave up his law practice to join the club and has had a long history of negotiating players’ contracts, understands the Italian only too well, however.

“He is insisting on a review of his salary, which is fair enough,” Brown said. “But what if we decided that, on reflection, Celtic wanted to reduce his wages instead of increasing them? A review can work in more ways than one.”

In the meantime, it can be assumed that Celtic, a public limited company answerable to 10,000 shareholders, will not be paying Di Canio £12,000 a week to sit in his flat in Rome.

The player’s wife did not return to Scotland when her husband reported for training and the pre-season tour of Ireland, alerting Celtic to the possibility of forthcoming problems.

While the first team trained at Celtic Park on Saturday morning, Di Canio had treatment for an injury. He then left the ground without speaking to Brown but having told some of the club’s backroom staff that he would not be returning to honour the three years left on his contract.

6 August 1997

Exit to Sheffield Wednesday

PAOLO DI CANIO today quit Celtic for Sheffield Wednesday after using the Parkhead club as a stepping stone to the English Premiership.

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Despite Celtic chief Jock Brown’s continued insistence that the troubled star is going nowhere, the morning papers’ reports proved correct, with the arrival of Regi Blinker from Hillsborough as part of the £4.5million deal.

“Paolo has always had an ambition to play in England,” advisor Favio Parisi was quoted as saying. “He always saw joining Celtic as a stepping stone in his career. The idea was that one day he would play in England.”

Blinker, who was paraded at a Parkhead Press conference today, said: “I am looking forward to working with Wim Jansen again. He is a man who played a big part in my career when he brought me to Feyenoord many years ago.

“Henrik Larsson is also someone I know from my Feyenoord days, and this should help me settle in quickly, both on and off the field. Playing for a man who knows and appreciates my strengths is important to me.”