Manchester United aren’t afraid of signing mavericks and controversial characters – they worth capability, want, and drive of their quests for silverware.
After Eric Cantona retired in 1997, it wasn’t fairly a mill pond at Previous Trafford however by the top of 2001, Sir Alex Ferguson knew they lacked a sure vim and vigour.
Within the late 1990s and early 2000s, English soccer appeared to encourage the eccentrics and allowed them to flourish.
One man, who in his personal phrases was half angel and half satan, and had, regardless of a controversial episode with Sheffield Wednesday, grow to be a hero at West Ham, was Paolo Di Canio.
The Italian, who additionally had one turbulent however profitable season with Celtic earlier than arriving in England in 1997, was a public enemy after he pushed referee Paul Alcock to the deck after a pink card in opposition to Arsenal for the Owls in 1998.
West Ham recognised his skills and supervisor Harry Redknapp, regardless of noting his flaws, stated: “He can do issues with the ball that individuals can solely dream of.”
And dream is what Hammers supporters did with Di Canio within the staff.
His addition helped the membership to a fifth-place end within the Premier League, their highest ever within the competitors.
And into the 1999/2000 marketing campaign he actually got here to life, scoring 16 Premier League objectives, together with his well-known volley in opposition to Wimbledon, rightly labelled one of many best in top-flight historical past.
The Hammers had been drifting although, regardless of Di Canio’s excellence and a ninth-place end was adopted by them ending 2000/01 in 15th, even with the Italian hitting 9 league strikes.
And by December 2001 he was being lined up for a transfer to a different Premier League struggler – not one you might need thought of on the time.
The 2001/02 Premier League season got here on the again of three successive titles for Man United, and 5 within the earlier six years.
It wasn’t going to plan, although, and regardless of their well-known 5-Three comeback win over Tottenham, a 4-Zero thrashing of Ipswich, and one other four-goal haul in opposition to Everton, an atrocious run of type 5 defeats in seven, spanning from late October to early December had them ninth within the desk.
Fergie knew he wanted one thing specifically to assist flip his struggling aspect round. It was meant to be his farewell season however he couldn’t exit like this.
One in every of his well-known revolutions was underway, with Ruud Van Nistelrooy, a right away success arriving, however so did Juan Sebastian Veron, who simply couldn’t present his skills as he had in Serie A.
Andy Cole left for Blackburn, Dwight Yorke was up on the market, whereas Teddy Sheringham had gone earlier in 2001. As a substitute, Fergie needed somebody to enhance Van Nistelrooy.
So, on Christmas Day he picked up the phone and tried to candy discuss Di Canio right into a transfer to Previous Trafford. And on the decision, it’s truthful each males had been taken abruptly.
“I believed it was a joke. I believed it was my buddy from Italy,” Di Canio informed Sky Sports activities about their chin wag.
“My abdomen went a bit as a result of it makes you suppose you’ve got underestimated your self, that you’re greater than what you thought.
“Man United name you, attempt to persuade you to maneuver as a result of they need you. For a few minutes you’re feeling huge and robust.
“It was unusual for me to say no to Sir Alex. I stated ‘thanks, 1000 instances thanks, however I can’t. West Ham are the household that warmed to me within the worst second in my life, I’m the skipper, I can’t.’
“He informed me, ‘Paolo, respect for this, I really like those that suppose on this method. You’re the man that I believed you had been.”
The mutual love was clear to see however regardless of that chat, rumours continued and the participant’s consultant spoke within the media a few deal in January.
“As an enormous participant, think about being a footballer on the finish of your profession and there’s a huge membership like Manchester United that need you,” stated his agent Matteo Roggi. “I believe virtually each participant want to play for one among these groups as soon as in his life and Paolo would love this chance.
“Manchester United are concerned in negotiations with West Ham and one thing will in all probability occur,” Roggi stated in one other interview.
“Mr Ferguson has at all times been a Paolo Di Canio lover and other people would possibly suppose there’s a emptiness as a result of United have allowed Andy Cole to depart.”
As an alternative of the Italian, in got here Diego Forlan for £7.5m simply days earlier than the deadline to register new gamers for the Champions League on January 31, 2002.
Di Canio, although, by no means fairly left Fergie’s ideas and rumours once more happened in late 2002 however they had been rapidly rebuffed
“We haven’t made any strategy for Di Canio, not since final January,” Ferguson informed The Occasions.
“If we had accomplished it final January, it could have been justified and we’d have gotten the advantage of it this season, however not now.
“It’s a pity as a result of I believe he’s a marvellous participant.”
Di Canio ultimately left West Ham in 2003 after their shock relegation to the Championship and joined Charlton Athletic.
And even at that time Ferguson couldn’t assist however surprise in regards to the Italian.
“He’s a fantastically gifted footballer,” he noticed. “It was an incredible piece of enterprise by Charlton to snap him up.
“I had a wee take into consideration perhaps bringing him right here in the course of the summer time. I’d checked out signing him a few instances earlier than however perhaps it wasn’t meant to be.
“You don’t see many guys with that particular knack of adjusting a recreation with a flash of pure expertise.
“He’s a really devoted soccer and an incredible coach. I do know he typically stays on for at the very least an hour after everybody else has completed. That’s an incredible perspective to have.”
“Di Canio would have been able to turning into a really nice participant at Manchester United,” Ferguson would later declare when queried in regards to the missed likelihood.
“I imply, he was an incredible participant. However when you’ve got a participant like Di Canio, who expresses himself as a person, like [George] Greatest and [Eric] Cantona did, and [Ryan] Giggs, [Wayne] Rooney, [Cristiano] Ronaldo and [Dimitar] Berbatov do… we make heroes rapidly right here. Di Canio may have been in that class.”
The Italian nonetheless doesn’t have any qualms about his determination although, regardless of the temptation to contemplate what might need been.
“Ultimately I remained at West Ham and I don’t have regrets about it,” he stated. “Even when United grew to become the most effective, received the Champions League, profitable the leagues. I might by no means change profitable these leagues for the 4 and a half years I wore the West Ham shirt.”