The Italian, who has been involved in controversy at most of the clubs he has played for, was suspended indefinitely by his club immediately after the incident at Hillsborough. He will be charged by the FA with gross misconduct once it receives the report on the game from the referee, Paul Alcock.
The FA's disciplinary commission has wide powers, and the least Di Canio can expect is a punishment comparable to the nine months' suspension given to Eric Cantona after his kung fu attack on a fan.
Saturday's incident occurred after a brawl in which Di Canio had become involved in a scuffle with the Arsenal defender Martin Keown. On being shown the red card, the Italian shoved the official to the ground before storming off the pitch.
The player's agent, Matteo Roggi, said Di Canio was "deeply upset" and was prepared to apologise. "At the moment we are deciding what to do," he said. "We will first let the dust settle on what has happened over the next few days. Paolo has said that he doesn't wish to speak to anybody with regard to the incidents. But he admits he is deeply upset. I feel sure Paolo will decide to issue an apology shortly and we will have to see what happens after that. We are also waiting to hear from Sheffield Wednesday."
The FA's chief executive, Graham Kelly, would not be drawn on what Di Canio's punishment might be, but welcomed his club's decision to suspend him immediately. Danny Wilson, its manager, said no other course of action was open to it, though he would still like Di Canio to play for him.
"We cannot condone any type of incident like that let alone making contact with the referee," Mr Wilson said. "I do not know what was going through his mind. He just lost it for a split second.
"Obviously we have suspended him straight away as we felt we needed to show people we understood the seriousness of the incident. We will suspend him for as long as it takes.
"We have got to adhere to whatever the FA decide to do. Until they make their decision, we will take the right steps and we will see how things pan out. I still want to have him in the team. But it's up to the League as to when that will be."
Philip Don, the Premier League's referees' officer, said Mr Alcock had considered whether to continue. "He was very shocked - it is something you don't expect," Mr Don said. "When things like that happen you have to consider your place in the game but I am sure I will see him refereeing in the league in a couple of weeks."
Premiership referees are considering proposals to go full-time but Mr Don doubted whether a professional referee could have prevented Saturday's incident.
Mr Kelly urged Mr Alcock not to give up. "I hope Paul is able to carry on as a top referee because one cannot allow incidents like this to affect the referees that are coming through," he said. "They get enough problems at the lower levels and when they finally make it to the Premiership they have a right to feel those kind of things are in the past and that professional players behave in a right and proper manner."
The volcanic Italian, Sport, page 26
In 1980, the West Indian bowler Colin Croft barged into umpire Fred Goodall following a controversial decision during a Test match in New Zealand but escaped punishment after claiming the contact was accidental. Mike Gatting merely had to apologise after his finger-jabbing confrontation with Pakistani umpire Shakoor Rana in 1987. In the present climate, a physical assault would almost certainly incur a lengthy ban.
Any player found guilty of striking a match officialcould expect to be suspended sine die. Rugby Football Union guidelines recommend a life ban for "extreme physical assault".
David Myers of Bradford was banned for the season after "deliberately colliding" with the referee, John Connolly, in February 1995. The Salford prop, Ian Blease, was banned sine die in May 1997 for hitting a touch- judge at Bradford. The suspension was later reduced.
In December 1987 light-heavyweight Bobby Frankham attacked referee Richie Davies when his fight with Bobby Sim was stopped in round one. Frankham was banned for life.
No basketball player has attacked a referee on court since the National League was formed in 1972. But an incident similar to Di Canio's would bring a substantial fine and a lengthy ban.Reuse content