Calcio Debate: Are We About To Say Goodbye To Christian Vieri?

As the much-travelled striker threatens to finally knock his playing days on the head, Gil Gillespie celebrates the life, the strops and the goals of a genuine playboy superstar...
According to conflicting reports coming out of Italy, Christian Vieri is either about to hang up his boots forever, continue his footballing career in Brazil, in the USA or with Queens Park Rangers, or is about to swap the pitch for the green baize table and become a professional poker player.

One thing is for sure. 'Bobo' has left Atalanta by mutual consent and his days as a top level professional striker are now over.

What a thrilling ride it's been.

Since he first kicked a ball for Serie C1 side Prato in 1989, Vieri has played for no less than 15 clubs in Italy, Spain and France and has collected enough cash to become one of the richest men in Europe.

When he moved to Inter from Lazio for £31 million ten years ago, he became the most expensive player on the planet. In the year of his transfer from Inter to Milan in 2005, his earnings are said to have topped £17m - more than that of Inter president Massimo Moratti.

The former Torino, Pisa, Ravenna, Venezia, Juventus, Atletico Madrid, Lazio, Inter, Milan, Monaco, Atalanta and Fiorentina hit man also owns several restaurants, two clothing lines, a range of sunglasses and has a popular pizza named after him.

But no-one should let the wealth, or the recreational activities, or the fact that he spent his formative years in Australia worshipping cricketer Alan Border, get in the way of celebrating the career of a truly great striker.

For a few jaw-droppingly ferocious seasons at Inter, Christian Vieri ruled the world.

Bobo was almost unstoppable, marauding his way through the middle of defences up and down the peninsula, leaving carnage in his wake.

He was unbelievable, almost comedic - a marauding mix of strength, power and technique - he was easily the most dangerous striker in the world. That ferocious hammer of a left-foot thumped 22 goals in 2001-02 and 24 the following season.

In five years with the Nerazzurri, he scored 103 goals in 144 appearances.

Surely even the most thin-skinned fans can forgive the whole business of him refusing to celebrate his goals as a protest at not being appreciated. He later slapped a €20m lawsuit on Massimo Moratti for what he described as "moral and existential damage". And he did spend the whole of the 2003 looking as if someone had just ran off with his girlfriend.

And talking of girlfriends, Vieri's legend has been built as much by his antics off the pitch, as it has on it. He has had stormy relationships with models Fernanda Lessa, Elisabetta Canalis, Melissa Satta, Debora Salvalaggio and Elena Santarelli, to name a few.

Following his muscular double-strike against Ecuador in the very forgettable 2002 World Cup, a poll by the Ecuadorian newspaper El Universo found that women had selected Vieri as the most beautiful vision of a man to have ever lived.

"I've never imagined I would have to blame such a lovely man for the disgrace of my country. Such legs, body, face and muscles," said one excited, yet simultaneously disappointed, admirer.

But there was not much sign of the “lovely man” at the Euro 2004 press conference two years later.

After a series of newspaper claims about his disruptive behaviour and an alleged falling out with Gianluigi Buffon, Bobo wanted a word.

He stormed into the room like a ferocious bull focussing on a red rag, looked the gathered journalists directly in their collective eyes and told them exactly what he thought of them and their gossipy, morale-sapping stories of team discord in the Azzurri camp.

"I'm more of a man than all of you put together," he stated, chillingly.

"I can walk down the street with my head held high. I can look at myself in the mirror, but you cannot."

He then stood up and walked calmly out, as the whole room stared at the floor like a class of infants.

Self-confidence was never a problem for Mr. Vieri.

Scoring goals, however, started to become one. At Euro 2004, he missed a whole raft of clear-cut chances and began to look as if he was never going to find the back of the net again. But let’s not forget that his 23 international strikes put him in ninth place in Italy’s all-time goal scorers list.

But then, just when you thought you'd seen the last of his greatness, he hit the heights one more time. During a rare appearance in his first season at Atalanta in 2006, he picked up the ball on the half-way line, span 180 degrees and hammered the ball almost 50-yards into the back of the net. It would prove to be his final moment of goal scoring superstardom.

But what a goal scorer he was. And what a character, too.

Anyone not convinced of the genius of his personality should consider this: back in the days when Channel 4 used to have a programme called ’Football Italia’, the show’s presenter, James Richardson, interviewed Vieri on a regular basis, season after season. And yet, it took five long years for the stubborn ‘Bison’ to actually agree to conduct one of these chats in English, a language in which he is, of course, fluent. Richardson hated him for it. But that’s Christian Vieri for you, take him or leave him, he's always been his own man.

And the imminent retirement of one of the most original, fascinating and colourful players to ever pull on a pair of football boots will be a sad day for every right-thinking follower of the game.

See ya Bobo, it's been emotional.

Gil Gillespie,