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August 2020 marks the 23-year anniversary of when Sheffield Wednesday made one of their most high profile signings in their history. Indeed, back in the eighth month of 1997, the Owls broke their transfer record to bring Italian superstar Paolo Di Canio to Hillsborough for a fee of £4 million (Sheffield Star).
Joining from Scottish giants Celtic, the Rome-born forward was already a huge name in the game having racked up over 300 appearances for some if the biggest clubs in Italian football including AC Milan, Juventus and Napoli.
However, on top of that he was also something of a controversial figure. Indeed, during his time in Glasgow he had been involved in an ill-tempered match against fierce rivals Rangers where he had behaved aggressively towards a rival player and made gestures towards the opposition bench. He received a yellow card in the match and was also given a retrospective one as well by the referee having being called into his office post-match (The Scotsman).
At the end of the 96/97 campaign, Di Canio demanded a wage rise from Celtic and when they rejected this, he refused to join up with the squad for their pre-season tour of the Netherlands and was ultimately sold to Wednesday who were a top flight outfit at the time.
It is fair to say that he put the controversy north of the border behind him as he set Hillsborough alight in his first full campaign with the South Yorkshire outfit. In 35 Premier League appearances he managed to net 12 goals and provided two assists, earning him great favour with the Owls faithful. On top of that, he had also formed a magnificent partnership with his compatriot Benito Carbone.
He picked up where he left off in the 98/99 season and started like a house on fire, netting three goals in five appearances as the season got underway.
However, his fiery temperament then caught up with him and he once again became embroiled in controversy when the Owls took on Arsenal at Hillsborough in September 1998. In this game, the Italian infamously pushed referee Paul Alcock which led to an 11-match ban and £10,000 fine being handed to him.
That ended up being Di Canio’s last ever appearance for Sheffield Wednesday, meaning he finished with 15 league goals in 41 appearances. After his ban he was sold to West Ham United for £1.5m, meaning the Owls actually ended up making a loss on the player despite his excellent form prior to that fateful game against the Gunners.
He may have only been in Sheffield for one-and-a-half seasons, but it was certainly a memorable period for Wednesday fans. They saw both the good and the bad of a player who, whilst flawed, has often been described as one of the most talented players to ever pull on the famous blue and white stripes.
Owls fans, what are your memories of Paolo Di Canio at Hillsborough? Let us know in the comments below…
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