The sincerity of the manager handshake will be put to the test this coming week when Swindon Town play Sheffield United. Sparks could fly. But not on the pitch.
The game reunites Danny Wilson and Paolo Di Canio. They most memorably came face to face for a match when Wilson was manager of Premiership club Sheffield Wednesday, and the fiery Italian Di Canio was about to play his final game for the Owls. But he was to go out with a bang!
This was his last action for his then despairing manager.
That day has gone down in Premiership history.
The day Di Canio pushed referee Paul Alcock to the floor in a match between Arsenal and Sheffield Wednesday. Di Canio was already on his way to the dressing room after being shown a red card for kicking out at Martin Keown.
En route to the dressing room he added insult to injury by depositing the ref to the ground. The then manager of Sheffield Wednesday, Danny Wilson, was shocked by what he saw and insisted the player leave the ground immediately.
Wilson had Di Canio suspended the following day.
Di Canio quickly boarded a plane to Rome.
He knew he would never return to Hillsborough. He had no intention of doing so.
Years later Di Canio apologised to Alcock. Paul Alcock said that after the Di Canio incident “my confidence was shot to pieces.”
Di Canio let down the Sheffield Wednesday fans who so worshipped him and helped pay his vast wages. They idolised him but he walked out on them. No apology to his colleagues club, fans or his manager.
Paolo Do Canio was furious when Sheffield Wednesday refused to support his planned appeal against the punishment handed down by the FA. An 11 match ban and a fine of £10.000.
I was working for Sky Sports News at that time in 1998 and we sent a reporter out to Italy to track down Di Canio. He was found riding a scooter around his home town and said he would never return to Sheffield Wednesday.
We sort of knew that because his people were already in touch with other Premier League clubs trying to get a move, ideally to London.
Clubs knew they would get him on the cheap as he was in dispute with Sheffield Wednesday. The Owls had little choice but to cut their losses and manager Wilson told the Chairman he didn’t want to see the Italian back at the club. The feeling was mutual.
Wednesday had paid Celtic £4.2 million for Di Canio. West Ham got a much improved player for only £1.7 million. He went on to be a hero at Upton Park.
Di Canio knew what he was doing. He effectively constructed his own dismissal. He had been frustrated with life in Sheffield for months. He wanted a move to London.
Diplomacy has never been one of Paolo’s strengths.
A devotee of all things Mussolini, Di Canio has given the Nazi salute when playing in Italy and is said to be a holocaust denier.
I saw him play often at Sheffield Wednesday. On his day, which was more often than not, he was a sensational player to watch. He was worth the entrance fee alone.
But he had a temper all of his own. Even back then. As a player Paolo Di Canio was no pushover to manage.
I saw him needlessly get himself sent off at Hillsborough when picking a verbal fight with a linesman over a throw in. He just wouldn’t leave the argument alone until such time as the ref was left with little choice but to show him a red card. Over a throw in for pete’s sake!
I was in the dressing room that day when big Ron Atkinson called him stupid for getting sent off and letting the team down.
Paolo walked over to his manager, lifted his not inconsiderable frame from the floor, pinned Ron against the wall and informed his manager that he should not call him stupid again. Or words of a similar nature.
When recounting that day Ron said: “I’ve managed a few nutters in my time, but Di Canio takes the biscuit.”
Paolo Di Canio was an excellent player. He displayed skills I have seen so rarely in my football watching life.
But he was a nightmare to manage. And, on November 6th, just 24 hours after Guy Fawkes night, Di Canio sends out his Swindon team to take on the seemingly unbeatable Sheffield United, managed by his former boss Danny Wilson. The man who once sent him packing.
The touchline body language should be interesting.