Football: The lid blew off the volcano

Fiery Paolo Di Canio has rarely been dormant for long. By Chris Maume
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The Independent Online
RON ATKINSON, then Sheffield Wednesday manager, uttered perhaps the definitive judgement on Paolo Di Canio last season. "I've managed a few nutters in my time but Paolo takes the biscuit," he said.

Wherever he goes, Di Canio delights the fans with his often sublime skills while infuriating officialdom with his inability to keep his mouth shut. The Italian has changed clubs nine times in his 13-year career, and there were signs of trouble two years ago, right at the beginning of his British sojourn, when Celtic played Arsenal in a pre-season friendly.

"He'll have to be careful about how far he goes here," the Arsenal defender, Lee Dixon, said after Di Canio had been involved in a couple of incidents, including one with Dixon which nearly involved the insertion of Di Canio's finger up the Arsenal defender's nostril as he laboured to make his point. "However, I'm sure he'll learn quickly," Dixon went on. "If he doesn't, referees will clamp down hard."

A few months later, the Italian brought the fury of Scottish referees upon his head when he accused them of religious bias against Celtic, and by the end of the season relations between club and player were at a similarly low ebb.

The Italian poured oil on troubled waters by issuing an open letter attacking the chairman, Fergus McCann, and a few days later, he refused to play in the Uefa Cup against Inter Cable Tel, returning to Italy instead, suffering from "stress". He also turned down a pre-season trip to the Netherlands. Inevitably, he was soon on his way, moving to Sheffield Wednesday in August last year for pounds 4.5m.

His stay at Wednesday has been a little less eventful, though, by his own admission, Atkinson spent much of last season keeping him away from the other players in training. "If I've broken up one fight between Paolo and Des Walker this season, I've broken up a hundred," Atkinson said. "Managing Paolo is like trying to keep the lid on a volcano - bloody hard."

There was another eruption when Wednesday were at Watford in the third round of the FA Cup last season. Booked for dissent, Di Canio exploded, shouting in the referee's face, stamping his feet and windmilling his arms. A red card followed, , together with a pounds 40,000 fine from the club.

Atkinson's successor, Danny Wilson, immediately found problems with the Italian. Di Canio's attitude was summed up when he said: "It would be easy for me to keep my mouth shut, do my training and play the games, but no one is going to put a towel over my mouth and gag me." And last week, after Wilson described his players as "fancy-dans" following their Worthington Cup defeat to Cambridge, Di Canio returned fire. "He's a young manager and perhaps a little immature, so perhaps he thinks attacking his own players in public is the way to show strength," he said.

Now Di Canio's own maturity is in question - not to mention his future in English football.