Friday, May 20, 2022

Paolo Di Canio was my biggest January transfer risk when I signed him for West Ham but turned out to be my best deal

I DON’T know who first said the January sales is the best time for a bargain, but I tell you one thing… it certainly isn’t for a football manager.

As far as they are concerned, it’s the most desperate and frantic month of all.


Paolo di Canio joined West Ham in January 1998 and became a fan favouriteCredit: Reuters
Harry Redknapp with the Italian boss on the training ground at West Ham


Harry Redknapp with the Italian boss on the training ground at West HamCredit: News Group Newspapers Ltd

And bargains? In many cases that’s when prices go through the roof.

If you are looking to buy in this transfer window, it is usually because you’re chasing promotion, Europe or — most common of all — to avoid relegation.

Other clubs know that you’re desperate, there’s not a lot of time to do business, and it’s so hard to find the players.

When you’re struggling at the bottom, it’s because the players are not good enough and the team needs improving.

Often that means taking a gamble — which is just what Roy Hodgson, Eddie Howe, Sean Dyche and those down there may have to do now, with just one day left.

I had to take plenty of punts on players in January but, ironically, it’s a player who many called the biggest risk of all who turned out to be one of my greatest signings.

In January 1998, Paolo Di Canio had only just finished his ban for shoving referee Paul Alcock — and Sheffield Wednesday were glad to get rid when I brought him to West Ham.


That made it very easy to sign him — but everyone thought he was trouble and would get me the sack. I still remember the headline: ‘Harry walks a tightrope without a safety net’.

It was the exact opposite. Paolo was fantastic, a terrific pro and an amazing talent who could do very special things. The fans absolutely loved him.

He was a huge success but the one who always comes to mind is a little Argentinian lad called Andres D’Alessandro, who I took to Portsmouth on loan in 2006.

I’d had him for a fortnight at West Ham a couple of years earlier, but the fee was high, and he’d gone to Wolfsburg instead.

His agent, a lovely guy called Barry McIntosh, rang to see if I was interested but we couldn’t afford him, unless it was a loan. And with other interest, there was no chance of that happening.

But then Barry called back to say it could be done, Andres came over for a dozen or so games and he saved us. We were bottom and ended up surviving because of him.

In the days before the January window, the transfer deadline was the end of March.

Andres d'Alessandro joined Harry Redknapp's Portsmouth on loan from Wolfsburg


Andres d’Alessandro joined Harry Redknapp’s Portsmouth on loan from WolfsburgCredit: Bongarts – Getty
Lassana Diarra helped Harry Redknapp's Portsmouth side win the FA Cup against all odds


Lassana Diarra helped Harry Redknapp’s Portsmouth side win the FA Cup against all oddsCredit: News Group Newspapers Ltd

In February 1997, we were right up against it at West Ham when Paul Kitson and John Hartson arrived together. Then they just blasted through everyone and we stayed up.

Before Hartson’s first game at Derby, Danny Baker — who’s actually a mate of mine — was on the radio calling him West Ham’s worst signing, that we’d bought a donkey.

I knew it was a gamble, we were at the bottom and he was the final throw of the dice. So that was the last thing I needed — then we lost and John got booked!

But he was unplayable after that, smashed every centre-half in the league. Him and Paul kept us up. I reminded Danny — a Millwall fan — of that at the end of the season!

Lassana Diarra was another January window signing who didn’t half pay off. I got him to Portsmouth for a bit over £4m in 2008.

He didn’t stay long but what a sensation! To be honest, I couldn’t understand why he would join us from Arsenal. But he wanted to play and we could offer him that.

He was magnificent, we won the FA Cup — and then we sold him to Real Madrid after only 12 months for about £20m.

 Read our Transfer News Live blog for the very latest rumours, gossip and done deals

Of course they don’t all come off, though, and I’ve had some nightmares as well.
Funnily enough, one of the biggest was in my early days at Bournemouth, a kid whose name I can’t even remember now.

We hadn’t got any dough but this lad had come down from Sheffield Wednesday with a reputation for getting in aggro. They wanted him out.

He turned his ankle before his first training session with us and let it slip he’d had trouble with it for a while. Obviously, it wasn’t going to happen then — but he was still desperate to sign.

My mate owned a suede and leather shop. It was a freezing day and the lad hadn’t got a jacket. I bought him a lovely sheepskin and put him on the train home.

He settled for that, a new coat and a word of advice from us to say the deal had broken down because we couldn’t agree personal terms, not to mention his ankle!

At least Eddie, Roy and the rest won’t have to handle a problem like that over the next 24 hours or so!

Take a bow, my hot tip pays off!

I WAS at a funeral for the mum of a good pal of mine — a guy called Dave Rodwell — in the East End this week and caught up with a load of old mates from back in the day.

We were nattering outside the church afterwards, as you do, when someone asked about my horse Bowtogreatness, which was running at Leicester.

I said it had an each-way chance, thought no more about it and went off to do a couple of things before I met up with them at the wake.

Bowtogreatness ridden by Kielan Woods winning at Leicester on Tuesday


Bowtogreatness ridden by Kielan Woods winning at Leicester on TuesdayCredit: PA

When I walked in the place went up, there was loads of cheering and I felt like I’d won the FA Cup.

As it happens there was a bookmakers next to the pub and they’d all rushed in to back my horse a couple of minutes before the off.

Dave’s missus didn’t think he should be in a bookies on the day of his mum’s funeral, but he said: “She wouldn’t expect anything else of me” — and steamed in with everyone else.

It was a sad day but the mood certainly lifted when my horse absolutely bolted up!

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