FourFourTwo's 100 best foreign Premier League players ever: 20-11
Words: Alex Hess, Jon Spurling, Andrew Murray, Richard Edwards, Seb Stafford-Bloor
20. Paolo Di Canio
If you’re able to separate the artist from his art, then it’s impossible not to appreciate the sheer magnificence of Di Canio in his pomp. The Italian held some suspect political views, but he also possessed one of the great right boots of the modern era, immortalised with the kung-fu volley he sent searing past Neil Sullivan in March 2000.
Di Canio had stints at Sheffield Wednesday and Charlton (and can be counted among the few of Alex Ferguson’s ones that got away), but by far his most impressive spell in England came sandwiched between those, with four years at West Ham. During that time he offered all the hallmarks of a cult hero: oodles of technical talent, a wild temperament and a showman’s eye for the spectacular.
Di Canio’s time in the Premier League was a compilation-video treasure trove – to go with his various wondergoals, he shoved a referee to the floor and, in an act of bizarre sportsmanship, caught a cross with his hands as an open goal lay in waiting (and the opposition keeper lay injured) – but he was a deadly serious sportsman, too, a finely tuned fitness and nutrition freak at a time when top-flight careers were open to timber merchants like Neil Ruddock. AH
19. Robin van Persie
The 21-year-old Feyenoord forward arrived at Highbury in May 2004 for a mere £2.75m, a snip for a club basking in the afterglow of the ‘Invincibles’ season. Van Persie wasn’t an immediate shoo-in and had to fight off competition from another recently imported youngster, Jose Antonio Reyes, yet he was always the more convincing of the two and soon began to demonstrate the potency of his unerringly accurate left foot.
The Gunners were in with a genuine chance of lifting the title in both 2008 and 2011; arguably the missing piece of the jigsaw was a fully-fit Van Persie for the entire campaign. Injuries blighted his Arsenal career, until a return to full fitness in March 2011 heralded a glorious 14-month golden spell in which the striker barely stopped scoring as Arsene Wenger's side once again secured Champions League football.
But Van Persie wanted more. In August 2012, after netting 132 Arsenal goals, the Dutchman joined rivals Manchester United in search of the Premier League winner’s medal he craved. He was a revelation throughout Sir Alex Ferguson’s final season at Old Trafford, winning the 2013 Golden Boot and the league title after grabbing 26 goals – including an exquisite volley against Aston Villa – in 38 games. His move to Old Trafford, however unpopular with Arsenal fans, had been fully vindicated. JS