‘I wasn’t looking to move from Derby but things changed and I am here now. It hurt me to be accused of being a disruptive in uence. It is horrible. But I know what I did for that club, so I feel OK.’
So said Paulo Wanchope when he was unveiled as a West Ham United player on 21 July 1999.
Wanchope’s career at Derby County had ended in acrimony after he claimed that there was widespread discontent at Pride Park, comments which were criticised by his manager Jim Smith.
In many ways the Costa Rican was a typical Harry Redknapp signing: bags of talent, possibly under-achieving and with a cloud over his temperament.
Indeed, the striker looked to be a perfect project for the Irons boss who always liked to take a gamble on a player he believed he could coax the best out of.
It’s interesting then that Wanchope, who would go on and spend just one season at Upton Park before being sold to Manchester City, is neither judged as a op or a roaring success.
Frustrating at times, the forward nevertheless bagged 15 goals in 47 games across all competitions during his single campaign and it was somewhat of a surprise when he was moved on the following summer.
Yet, while his performances on the eld were acceptable, the now 43-year-old admits he found it hard to settle in the bright lights of London off the field.
‘The first six months in the hotel were difficult,’ he recalls. ‘After that things weren’t always great either – London is nice to visit, but I wasn’t sure about it as a place to live.
‘I was never homesick. It was special to have the opportunity to play in Europe and in the Premier League – it was a dream come true, to play with and against the best players in the world. It wasn’t a problem to be away from my home, or even deal with the weather, but it felt like the right time to move on after the season.
‘It was tough, but I always prefer to remember the good things, even if it was difficult at the end.’
Despite his issues with the capital, Wanchope says he enjoyed playing for the Irons, especially manager Redknapp.
‘He was a great character, very enthusiastic,’ he added. ‘He was always trying to get us to play good, passing, possession football and to bring up talented players, especially midfielders.
‘I did enjoy playing at West Ham, with Frank Lampard, Rio Ferdinand, Trevor Sinclair, Paolo Di Canio – Joe Cole was coming up from the U20s and playing with the first team, it was a good time.
‘It was a great team, I remember Mark Vivien Foe as well. It was a good year even though it was tough for me as I lived in a hotel, which isn’t always nice, but it made me a better player and a better person.’
It was his partnership with Di Canio, however, that he will be best remembered.
The pair notched 31 league goals between them in the 1999-2000 season and at times it seemed Wanchope’s unpredictable play brought out the best in our fiery Italian.
‘He was passionate, he was crazy,’ laughs Wanchope.
‘Before games he would talk to his legs and kiss them, saying, “Come on, you’re going to score today!”
‘He was a great character and he always demanded the best from his teammates, from everyone.
‘Off the pitch he was a very nice man to be around – but sometimes he’d lose his head! I know he had some problems when he was a manager over here, and he’s back in Italy now, but I had great times with him.’Embed from Getty Images
While Di Canio’s managerial ambitions seem to have been dampened by his short-lived experience at Sunderland, Wanchope admits he would love another crack at coaching after his year in charge of his nation- al team that ended in 2015 – possibly back in England.
‘I have a pro license in Costa Rica, but not one over here. I’m really looking forward to maybe coming back to England,’ he said. ‘I miss the professionalism, and the Premier League is the biggest in the world. I’m very passionate about foot- ball and want to carry on working in football, and this is the place to be. The good thing is my family want to come too.
‘We may decide as a family to come over and give it a crack. I’d still love to be in football.
‘I’ve been a sporting director and had a small spell back with Herediano in Costa Rica so I’d like to keep on improving my career as a coach. It’s nice to see Frank Lampard as a coach. He is a good person and good player and I support him and wish him luck at Chelsea.’
While it is questionable how many West Ham fans share that particular view, most would agree Wanchope would have something to offer as a coach – not least advising young players struggling to cope with adapting to the English culture.
‘I didn’t know much about Derby when I arrived’, he explains. ‘The Premier League was near the beginning and Derby had just come up from the first division.
‘My first experience over here was actually with QPR. I came over here on trial, played three games, scored six goals and nothing happened.
‘It was hard for me I was confused, so I went back to Costa Rica but Bob McNab [the former Arsenal defender and part-time agent] bought me back to England. He rang Jim Smith and I had the chance to come over to Derby and play a few games, and thankfully it went well.’
Wanchope made an instant impact on his second visit to England as he scored a sensational goal against Manchester United at Old Trafford, beating four United players before slotting past Peter Schmeichel during a 3–2 win.
The goal was later voted the greatest in the club’s history by the Derby fans as part of the club’s 125th anniversary celebrations
‘It was quite a shock at the start, but I was really looking forward to having a chance that day,’ he recalls.
‘I didn’t know I was going to play until the day before – I didn’t sleep that night! I was very anxious, I woke up every two or three hours. I wanted to be out there and for time to go faster.
‘It was a good experience – we were on the way from the hotel and Jim Smith asked me if I would like to put some music on, so I said, “Yes, I would like to play some salsa!”
‘We ended up listening to salsa from the hotel to Old Trafford. The rest of the team were really happy with it and it was good of Jim Smith to do that – it made me relax.
‘The goal came from the right side, I just got the ball and made a big diagonal run. It was a great way to make a first impression on everyone because when I came over the first-time people would say, “He’s from Costa Rica, do they even play football over there?”, so everyone was really impressed.
‘Everyone was congratulating me, telling me to work hard and carry on helping the team. At that time you don’t realise the impact of that goal and that game. The years go by and people still talk about that game and that goal, which is great for me and my kids.
‘I still joke about that goal with Peter Schmeichel – he said, “I made you famous with that goal!” We have a good relationship, and we played together at Manchester City.’
Paulo Wanchope was talking to our friends at ‘Steve Bloomer’s Washing’, a Derby County podcast. Listen to the full interview on iTunes, Spotify or Twitter via @ SteveBloomerPod.