Vieri – Down and Out
By the summer of 2006, Vieri’s career had appeared to be drawing to a humiliating close. The man who had once been the most expensive player in the history of football – Massimo Moratti’s Inter Milan paid Lazio ITL 90 billion (USD 49 million) for him in 1999 – was reduced to touting his services around. After brief, injury blighted and unsuccessful spells at AC Milan and Monaco, he agreed a one-year deal with Sampdoria in July, only to see it terminated “by mutual consent” a month later.
Vicri then offered to play in Serie B for Juventus, who had just been demoted as part of the Calciogate affair. The Turin club, where Vieri had been a hero ten years earlier, politely declined his offer.
He briefly toyed with quitting football and joining the cast of a reality TV show but eventually joined Serie A’s Atalanta on a one-year deal. After scoring just two goals in seven appearances, his contract was not renewed. Vieri was down and out, apparently with no future in the game. Cue Corvino and Vieri’s Florentine renaissance.
That Vieri is still making the news should come as no surprise. Italian football has thrown up many technically gifted players over the years but it has not produced many characters like the burly Bologna-born forward. Since emerging in the early 1990s as a striker of raw power with an unerring eye for goal, Vieri has always commanded attention — though often this has been as much for his exploits off the field as on it.
Vieri scored 23 goals in 49 games for Italy, an incredible 103 goals in 143 league games during six years at Inter and notched a perfect 24 goals in 24 games in his one season at Atletico Madrid. But throughout his career – as if driven by Oscar Wilde’s dictum that “it’s better to be talked about than not talked about” – he has courted controversy, filling the news and gossip pages as often as the sports pages.
Much of the time, media interest has been confined to spotting his latest glamorous girlfriend but there have been more serious episodes, such as Vieri being accused (but later on acquitted by UEFA) of racially abusing Newcastle United’s Lomana LuaLua during a UEFA Champions League match or being involved in a punch-up with two Sampdoria fans in a Milan restaurant. The attention has led him to mistrust the media and in one of his most famous outbursts, during a press conference at EURO 2004, he told journalists: “I’m more of a man than all of you put together. I can look at myself in the mirror, you cannot.”
Vieri has always been different. It is something he puts down to the fact that he grew up not in Italy but’Down Under’. “I grew up in Australia, a free country,” he said. “I went to school every day on a skateboard or a BMX bike, wearing shorts and flip-flops from morning till night and I spent my spare time playing cricket. I always say exactly what I think. Everybody has their own character and this is how I am. There are these old journalists who think they are in charge but they are not in charge of me.”