After Roberto Di Matteo was unceremoniously elbowed out of Chelsea and replaced by Rafael Benitez, it got me thinking.
Had it have been Big Sam kicked out of his job and West Ham without a manager, I’m sure there would have been one realistic option from the faithful for new boss. That choice would have been my all-time hero, Paolo di Canio. It would be easy to write a piece about his credentials for becoming new gaffer but I’d rather concentrate on some of his moments that involved Chelsea, whilst in our famous claret and blue.
Firstly, when Harry signed him I was surprised and slightly concerned. Clearly, here was a man with a reputation. A loose cannon who was also a good friend of the then Chelsea manager Gianluca Vialli. Luca, along with Harry, showed an interest in signing Paolo. In the minds of the media, di Canio was going to Chelsea, but Harry pulled off one of his masterstrokes and di God was our new number 10 replacing the recently departed John Hartson.
Fast forward and Paolo has built a reputation in East London. Opening the eyes of Sir Alex, Paolo is rumoured to be moving. Ryan Giggs himself also dmitted he’d welcome Paolo at Old Trafford. Going into an away game at Stamford Bridge, we’re led to believe this will be his last game for West Ham.
Watching, with a lump in my throat and believing the red tops, I didn’t know how to expect him to sign off. We lost 5-1, Chelsea destroyed us and di Canio got sent off for stamping on Jody Morris. I hoped he wouldn’t leave us on such a low note. I begged he wouldn’t. He didn’t and with a new season ahead, di Canio was the talisman.
With Sinclair not producing after an impressive World Cup in the far east and Roeder bereft of ideas, West Ham started slowly. Very slowly. Our first win, in what became a terrible season came on September 28 at Chelsea. In a performance best described as inspirational, Paolo scored two outstanding goals including a 30 yard volley. After juggling the ball from foot to foot, he took the ball past his mesmerised markers and smashed it past a bewildered Cudicini.
On scoring his second and running to the throngs of travelling fans, Paolo claims he shouted, almost exhausted, ‘What more can I do?!’ Later on in the season, standing on a creaky relegation trap door in East London, The Hammers needed to beat Chelsea to have any hope of survival.
With Roeder on the sidelines after illness, interim boss Trevor Brooking recalled Paolo to the squad. Starting him on the bench, at 0-0 changes needed to be made. We know the rest! Di Canio comes on, scores what becomes the winner, and through our claret and blue tinted glasses, he gives us hope of survival.
Unfortunately, as predicted by most, we succumbed to relegation but looking at his history for us v Chelsea, it’s pretty eventful! It makes me wonder if in ten years time one of their fans will be remembering Rafa’s Chelsea history versus us with such fondness!?