HITC Sport's run-down of Sheffield Wednesday's greatest ever players continues with Paolo Di Canio
Almost 20 years have passed since Sheffield Wednesday signed maverick Italian striker Paolo Di Canio from Celtic. At a cost of £4.5million, as recorded in the Jason Dickinson book Sheffield Wednesday Miscellany, he remains the Owls' most expensive ever recruit.
Di Canio's performances certainly warranted what was then a sizeable transfer fee. In his first season at Hillsborough, the white-booted number 11 scored 14 times in 40 matches, delighting supporters with skill, passion and a strong working relationship with the club's other Italian Benito Carbone (top 30 players number 28).
The return of Ron Atkinson as manager in mid-November seemed to bring out the best in Di Canio, who scored in wins over Southampton, Newcastle, Tottenham, Everton, Manchester United and Barnsley, as well as a 3-3 home draw with Liverpool.
But when Atkinson wasn't kept on beyond the summer of 1998, despite leading Wednesday to the comfort of 16th place having found them in 19th, things started to turn for Paolo.
On the pitch, they were rosier than ever. Di Canio scored three times in his first six league outings, but his Owls career came to a sudden halt during the last of those - a 1-0 win against Arsenal in September.
A tussle with Patrick Vieira led to handbags involving both sets of players, but notably Di Canio and Martin Keown, who were both sent off by referee Paul Alcock. Incensed, Di Canio shoved Alcock in the chest and the startled official stunned everyone by stumbling backwards and to the ground with his red card still in hand.
Di Canio received an 11-match ban for his troubles and never turned out in blue and white again, with his sale to West Ham United, for a cut-price £1.5million, as reported by the Guardian, agreed upon his return from suspension.
He may have been 30 at the time, but the Hammers had landed themselves a bargain, and his success at Upton Park left many Wednesdayites wondering what might have been, with Wilson's role in it all coming under particular scrutiny.
In his 2000 autobiography, Di Canio called his former boss "a frustrated nobody", and despite leading Wednesday to 12th in the absence of their talisman, the Northern Irishman was sacked midway through the following campaign, which culminated in the Owls' relegation.
Sheffield Wednesday career: 1997-1999
Other clubs: Lazio, Ternana, Juventus, Napoli, AC Milan, West Ham, Charlton, Lazio, Cisco Roma