Paolo: I'm No Shirker

Paolo Di Canio has responded to renewed criticism about his attendance record at away games in the north since he joined West Ham.

A newspaper report on Tuesday highlighted the statistic that, in a possible 19 matches against northern-based opponents, he has yet to play for the Hammers at Leeds or Newcastle, and has played once at Manchester United, Liverpool and Middlesbrough.

But an indignant Paolo says that is selective reporting and counters: "I am a quiet guy but when I see that, I have to show that I am intelligent, not ignorant.

"If they check the statistics you see that they are talking about the complete opposite of what happened.

"The newspaper said since I arrived I played only three times of 19 away in the north.

"It is a lie because there were 34 away games and I have played in 17, and in those 17 away games we made 20 points - six wins, three draws, and nine defeats.

"In the 17 I didn't play we made five points - one win, two draws, and 14 defeats.

"And of the 17 I didn't play, in five I was suspended, which I could do nothing about.

"The ignorant newspaper said I don't like to play in the north and put Manchester United, Middlesbrough, Liverpool, Newcastle, and Leeds.

"They forgot, because they are ignorant, that the north includes Sunderland, Everton, Blackburn, Manchester City, Bradford City, Sheffield Wednesday and Bolton where I played many times."

It is those venues that Paolo refers to in his answer, and he also feels aggrieved by the reported opinions of former Hammers hero Julian Dicks in the same article, headlined 'Paolo must get stuck in.'

"There are other statistics about Dicks and me. I love the club and I showed that last year when I didn't want to move, and two years ago when Chelsea wanted me but I stayed at West Ham," he insists.

"I still say I want to finish my career here and it is the truth. If I leave it is because the club don't want me.

"He says that he loves West Ham, but in 1993 he went to Liverpool and left the Hammers supporters behind.

"He came back after one year because the Liverpool manager said to him 'I don't need you, you are not good enough - go back to your place'.

"He returned just because he didn't have another option, and since he came back for the seasons from '94 to '97 he finished 14th, 10th, and 14th.

"Without him, we qualified for the UEFA Cup. We finished fifth and seventh last year, which means we absolutely don't need him - so how can he talk about us?

"In the league at West Ham I have played 109 games out of 143, which is 76% of the games. Julian Dicks played 287 out of 424, including Liverpool, which is 67% - much less than me.

"So what question is this from a player that was unprofessional and didn't really love the club, but only came back because he had no other option?

"And I am still the top scorer since I arrived, with 44 goals.

"What has he won in his career? Nothing.

"I have won the UEFA Cup, the European Super Cup, and the Serie A title with AC Milan.

"So how do I have to take a lesson from a player who stopped playing at 30 because he didn't have the desire and passion to come back?

"How can you be a teacher compared to a player like me, 34 and a half, and back - stronger - after a big injury in the summer?

"I have made a difference and am a big influence in that league. I have a big passion for West Ham - so how can he talk about me? It is an insult."

Paolo's point is that modern football is more skilful than the previous era, and, making a general point about days gone by, he says: "It is easy to be a hero in older football, to kick opponents or use the elbow but not train during the week.

"That is an insult to supporters who see only the games and the screaming and kicking the ball out of the stands as being passion.

"But you are a hero to yourself every single day when you have to train hard and you don't go out to the pub to have a drink or a smoke.

"You stay at home and look after your body, and don't finish your career early."

Paolo is understandably proud about still being at the peak of his profession in his mid-30s, and, adding his personal opinion about someone he acknowledges was a Hammers hero, he adds: "Many players came back from his injury and made a difference, so why finish at 29?

"How can he talk about us when he left and we had better seasons, and how can he talk about love when he left for Liverpool and came back and returned after 24 games because he didn't have an option?

"This criticism is not coming from someone like Franco Baresi, but I can't use that name because it is an offence to put the name alongside Dicks.

"I can take criticism from Baresi, but not Julian; he was a legend? Why, what did he do to be a legend?

"If you get your money at the end of the month and know you deserve it, not because you play Saturday, but because every single day you work your heart out then you can be happy, not just training on Fridays and only saying on the pitch 'come on, we are showing passion'.

"It is not by words or kicking that you give satisfaction to the supporters, and fortunately for the supporters that football is the old football.

"Now you have to include quality - that he didn't have.

"He stopped at 30, probably because he lost his desire even if someone said he couldn't play any more.

"Maybe it is not the biggest thing but we qualified for Europe without him after 18 years without being in Europe.

"Criticism is good when it is constructive from true professionals.

"I am disappointed if we lose, I go home, and I think about what is right and wrong in the game.

"How can he do this if he is spending 16 hours in his pub?

"How can he talk about professionalism? I think this case falls down and it shows that he doesn't love West Ham.

"The problem is that The Sun has used him for this article and taken advantage of him; this is a shame.

"It shows that it is lies and the exact opposite of what I did for West Ham - but they always write lies, unfortunately."

But his gripe is not so much about Julian as the fact that, once again, he has been criticised for missing some away games, to the extent that Barry Venison even called him 'a disgrace' on TV on Monday night.

"I play everywhere and the problem is they are just showing what they want - and I am not surprised it came out in a rubbish newspaper," he says.

"Silly people and unprofessional people, they attract each other; it is ignorant because they forgot that the north includes all these other places like Sunderland and Everton.

"Do I have to teach them geography? Not all footballers are ignorant, there are also many that are intelligent, like me.

"I am a winner compared with them and I have looked at the statistics, which show that I played many games in the north - 17, and not three.

"And we have to pray that I am okay for these games otherwise it lessens our chances of winning away."

Paolo knows that when you are in the bottom three the brickbats start flying - but does not expect it from former West Ham players.

"There are a few ex-footballers from West Ham, and I am not including Tony Cottee who is a very good guy, but there are some that are happy for us to go down," he insists.

"This is because they are frustrated, jealous people who didn't leave memories to this club.

"If they had a true passion for the club they should say constructive things, not just destructive things - and now the supporters will realise they were only selfish people when they played."

The criticism has certainly got him fired up for the weekend visit of Manchester United, and he adds: "Every game will be difficult for us and a victory is very important.

"If we win it will be perfect because three points will give us extra energy - and be fantastic for every single member of this club.

"I play for West Ham and I will show once again that I have a heart for West Ham - which I prove every single day on the training ground where I go, not for a laugh, thinking about where to go for a smoke or a drink at night - like some ex-players many years ago did at this club.

"Once again I am the winner and I hope we will win to take satisfaction on Sunday - but if we don't it won't change what I have done for West Ham."