Neil Ruddock: We’d go to the pub & Di Canio would train with youth team!

He might have been a bit crazy, but he was a sensational player


It was great playing for Harry Redknapp. When I was there I think we came fifth and got into the UEFA Cup – I even scored away at Zagreb.

Not too many people can say they’ve scored for West Ham in Europe!

15 Aug 1998: Neil Ruddock of West Ham United looks to hit the ball long during the FA Carling Premiership match against Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough in Sheffield, England. West Ham won 1-0. Mandatory Credit: Ross Kinnaird /Allsport

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Harry always wanted a good mix, so he’d always have a few old players, he’d get a couple of years out of me, a couple out of Stuart Pearce, a couple out of Wright. Then you’re rubbing off with the youngsters like Rio, Frank, Joe Cole.

We had some good players – Stuart Pearce, Shaka Hislop in goal, Ian Pearce and Rio Ferdinand at the back, Joe Cole, Frank Lampard, Michael Carrick coming through, and the likes of Defoe, Ian Wright, John Hartson, Fredi Kanouté, Paulo Wanchope and Eyal Berkovic.

We did the best we could. Finishing fifth was something then you were pushing the big boys.

And there was Paolo Di Canio – he was a tremendous player.

He was so good we had to tell him to stop tracking back. He’d be so competitive he’d keep running around and his legs would be gone after an hour, which was no help to us.

Paolo di Canio

In the end, we just said ‘you stay up front, the rest of us will run our b*llocks off, and you can keep scoring winners’. And that’s what he did.

He used to train like mad too. We’d go down the pub or down the bookies and he’d be training with the youth team in the afternoons.

You wouldn’t really take the piss out of him though for it. If any other player had done it when you ask were they coming down the pub? you’d have thought ‘f*ck off you knobhead,’ and get the hump.

But Paolo was that good you didn’t mind.

I did get him to go out once and got him drunk. He never used to drink at all, I got him on Guinness one day in Essex. It’s the only time I’ve ever seen him drink, and every time I see him he still has a go at me for it.

He was a bit crazy, like when he pushed the referee over and some of the statements he comes out with. If anyone said he was going to be a football manager I’d have thought ‘no way, not Paolo, it’s definitely not going to be him’. I’d have picked anyone else over him.

But on the field, he showed there is that fine line there is between genius and madness.

He was the ultimate player.

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