The public rehabilitation of Paolo Di Canio always seemed a little weird. The striker rebounded from his highly-publicized shoving of a referee while with Sheffield Wednesday and became a fan favorite at West Ham, even doing a sneaker commerical where he smirked while describing himself as “a little pushy”. Towards the end of his tenure with the Hammers (during which he became rather selective about which away matches he’d be available for), Di Canio was doing adverts for ladies’ bath salts.

After subsequent stops at Charlton Athletic and Celtic, Di Canio returned to Serie A’s Lazio and showed that despite his advanced age, he’s still one of football’s biggest creeps. Reuters’ Simon Evans reports (link courtesy Jesper Eklow) :

Lazio striker Paolo Di Canio has been criticised across the political spectrum in Italy after images showed him celebrating his team’s derby win against AS Roma with a fascist-style salute.

At the end of Thursday’s game, won 3-1 by Lazio with Di Canio among the scorers, the former England-based player ran underneath the Lazio supporters at the North End of the stadium to celebrate the victory.

Photographs published in newspapers on Saturday clearly showed Di Canio displaying a stiff armed salute to the crowd, identical to the ‘Roman salute’ used by followers of Italy’s wartime fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.

Alessandra Mussolini, grand-daughter of the late dictator and herself a far-right politician, praised Di Canio’s actions.

“How nice that Roman salute was, it delighted me so much,” she said, “I shall write him a thank-you note”.

Di Canio though denied there was any political content to his gesture: “I am a professional football and my celebrations had nothing to do with political behaviour of any kind, in particular not those expressed by Mrs Floriani” he told the daily Gazzetta dello Sport using Alessandra Mussolini’s married name.

But Italy’s Minister for EU affairs, the conservative politician Rocco Buttiglione said the salute had real meaning.

“The Roman salute brings back painful memories for many Italians. Sport should bring people together but the symbols of that terrible civil war can only divide.

“He should think about the offspring of those who were killed and what it would be like for them to see that,” he added.

Centre-left politician Enzo Foschi said he respected Di Canio as a footballer but was appalled by his gesture.

“That salute cannot pass without comment. It gives legitimacy to fascism, a murderous and tyrannical ideology. I take my cap off to Di Canio the footballer but Di Canio the fascist is a disgrace,” he said.

Di Canio, who was a hardcore Lazio ‘ultra’ during his youth before joining the club as a player, has never made any secret of his political affiliations.

In his autobiography he said he was “fascinated” by Benito Mussolini and said the dictator has been “deeply misunderstood” and was “basically a very principled, ethical individual”.

If nothing else, I hope this puts Randy Moss’ choice of TD celebrations in some persepctive.