x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Big-money Vieri off to Land of the Free

Lately, it has been rarer to see Vieri on the Serie A pitches. He fell out with Atalanta last week, annoyed by fans complaining about the value of a player who had made only nine appearances this season and scored just twice.

The first reports that Christian Vieri, at the ripe age of 35, was looking to play in America's Major League Soccer surfaced in the Italian celebrity magazine, Chi. While most of the Italian news outlets have graver matters - the awful consequences of an earthquake - to cover, there has always been an appetite for stories involving big "Bobo" Vieri, the moody looking centre-forward often seen with model girlfriends at the pricier nightspots of Milan.

Lately, it has been rarer to see Vieri on the Serie A pitches. He fell out with Atalanta last week, annoyed by fans complaining about the value of a player who had made only nine appearances this season and scored just twice. So he cancelled his contract - one structured around his availability, his injury record being patchy - and declared himself ready for another challenge. Or, rather, yet another deal. Atalanta's is one of the 14 different jerseys - Italy's Azzurri included - Vieri has worn in a career containing an extraordinary number of moves.

He has joined Atalanta on three occasions, so that makes 16 different transfers, signing-on fees, cuts of transfer payments, bonuses, and so on. At one stage - 1999 to 2005 - he did stay with a single employer for a longish time, Inter Milan, but that seemed like an interruption to a sequence as remarkable for its itchy feet as the potency of the boots laced up around them. Born in Italy, Vieri spent much of his childhood in Australia, where he was a promising cricketer. Back in Italy, playing in Serie C with Prato, his strong physique and powerful left foot attracted the interest of Torino. There he made his Serie A debut. Torino lasted two seasons; Pisa, his next club, just one. Vieri had only just turned 20 when he signed for his fourth Italian employer, Ravenna in Serie B. Twelve months later, with handsome goalscoring figures, he was off again, for his first spell at Atlanta.

The next summer Vieri would join Juventus. The summer after that, he joined Atletico Madrid, and scored at a goal-per-game. Another July, another move, this time to Lazio, his eighth employers in eight years, his ninth in 10. Inter paid a then world record fee for a striker established in the Italy team - he scored 23 international goals in 49 games. Vieri can give off a sullen air. He once went through a phase of not celebrating goals, piqued by criticism from Inter supporters. The club management had doubts about him too: it emerged Inter once had the player's phone bugged as a part of a surveillance operation into player discipline.

When he left Inter, Vieri picked up a pay-off close to US$5million (Dh18.3m). He said thank you by joining their greatest rivals, Milan, on a free transfer. That move did not work, injury blighting a season where he competed for time on the field with Andriy Shevchenko, Pippo Inzaghi and Alberto Gilardino. Vieri has had knee problems for a while, his joints having carried his heavy frame through penalty boxes across Europe year after year. Milan loaned him to Monaco and in the French league he scored three times in seven outings. Then Sampdoria signed him. Vieri later cancelled that agreement and went back to Atlanta. There he performed cameos, including a spectacular left-foot volley from 40 yards against Siena.Then he moved to Fiorentina, an episode that lasted for single campaign. Back at Atalanta, the third honeymoon was over by April. Next stop USA? Vieri apparently asked David Beckham about joining LA Galaxy. Beckham might helpfully have told him to try to smile a little more often. It wins you friends over there.

@Email:ihawkey@thenational.ae