Gerrard Recalls Di Canio 'Catch'
Former Blues keeper remembers the Italian's act of sportsmanship.
In September 1998, Paolo Di Canio was facing to a battle to save his career in England after a much-publicised incident involving referee Paul Alcock.
The Italian, playing for Sheffield Wednesday against Arsenal, infamously pushed the former Premier League official to the floor after being shown a straight red card for an off-the-ball incident.
The authorities threw the book at the striker and his punishment was unprecedented. He received an 11-game suspension and never played for Sheffield Wednesday again.
But a little over two years later and Di Canio’s reputation had come full circle following one shining piece of sportsmanship at Goodison Park.
Wearing the colours of West Ham United on a visit to Merseyside in December 2000, he caught the ball inside the penalty area after Everton goalkeeper Paul Gerrard had dislocated his knee when attempting a clearance.
Di Canio passed up the opportunity to put the ball in the unguarded net, instead showing his concern for the pain-stricken Blues stopper.
With clock about to tick into the 90th minute and the game poised at 1-1, it was a moment the 31,260 supporters in Goodison that afternoon will never forget. Indeed, the Italian was given a standing ovation for that act alone.
Now Sunderland manager, Di Canio might not quite receive the same reception when he comes into contact with the Blues again this Saturday, but he still commands the respect of those connected with Everton, particularly Gerrard who recovered from his injury to play in the corresponding fixture at Upton Park later that season.
“My memories of that day are just of the agony, to be honest,” Gerrard told evertonfc.com. “Obviously it's remembered for what happened with Di Canio but for me it's not a good memory, dislocating my knee.
“When it happened, I was in that much pain that I didn't really see what was happening behind me and it was only afterwards when I got carried off and taken back to the medical room that I learned he'd caught the ball.
“Harry Redknapp was the manager at that time and by all accounts he was going absolutely ballistic after the game. The game was 1-1 and there was only a few minutes or so left at that point, so a goal probably would have won them the game.
“I think a lot of people at the time were saying that the cross was behind him and they thought he caught it just because he wasn't able to score anyway but even so, to not even make an attempt to score with me being down injured is a great gesture.
“I spoke to Paolo briefly when we had the return to fixture at Upton Park and I had to present on behalf of Everton a fair play certificate to him. We had a quick conversation and he asked how I was and seemed a really nice guy.
“I haven't really come across him much since but I appreciate what he did for us at the time, for me and obviously for the team. A lot of people have mentioned it to me between then and now and I suppose it's one they remember because it doesn't happen that much these days does it, fair play?”
After ending his playing career back in his homeland, Di Canio took his first steps into management with Swindon Town at the start of last season.
The 44-year-old comfortably guided the Robins back into League One at the first attempt and established the Wiltshire club as candidates for successive promotions this year, up until his departure from the County Ground in mid-February.
Gerrard believes Di Canio will prove a hit in his new role Sunderland and has welcomed his flamboyant personality back to the Premier League.
“Obviously he's a great character and I think that's why people love him, because he's so passionate that they don't know what they're going to get off him,” Gerrard explained. “But I think that's what the game needs, characters. If everyone was a bit robotic and went about their business in an average way it would be boring.
“It's obviously early days but he's got off to a great start in his managerial career with Swindon and I think he'll do really well. He's a big character, I think he can take the flak as well and what's thrown at him from the media.
“I think he's already got the fans onside and he'll get the players playing for him. It's good to see colourful characters within the game.”
Gerrard returned to Goodison Park several weeks ago when Oldham Athletic – where he is goalkeeper coach – were beaten in the FA Cup fifth round replay.
Since then, the Latics have transferred their cup form into the league, taking 11 points from their last seven games to move away from the League One relegation zone under the guidance of new manager Lee Johnson.
“We've got three games left and I think we only need one more point so if we get a decent result on Saturday we'll be okay," added Gerrard. "It's obviously been a difficult season and it's been up and down.
“As Evertonians will know, we had a decent cup run but we've been up and down in the league and it's been disappointing. But it looks as if we're more or less safe and it's something to build on next season.”