Having played for 13 clubs during his 18-year career, Christian Vieri was one of football's true itinerants, a well-travelled striker with a wanderlust surpassed only by the likes of Rivaldo, Romario and Sebastian Abreu.
But while that South American trio were perhaps always destined to shine with a ball at their feet, the former Italy stalwart could easily have been lost to the beautiful game. Ask who he idolised most during his formative years and Vieri will happily sing the praises of… Allan Border.
If the name fails to ring any bells, do not fret. Border may be a sporting legend, but his feats cannot be found in any football almanac. Instead, he is a former Australian cricket captain, and his batting prowess captivated the young Vieri after his family moved Down Under from Italy, where he was born in 1973. Beguiled by the sound of leather on willow, Vieri was long tempted by the sport but ultimately opted for football, spending his prime putting the ball in the net with astonishing regularity and representing *La Nazionale *with pride.
FIFA.com met up with the retired marksman at the 2014 Annual Match against Poverty. Five years on from hanging up his boots, charity initiatives have become a staple for Vieri as he fills his time with as many pursuits as he racked up clubs during his playing days.
Memory laneTorn between two sports and two nations as he grew up in Sydney's Italian community, Vieri's mind was eventually made up for him when his family left Australia and returned to Italy. He dedicated himself to football and took his first steps in the game with Prato in Serie C, where his talents were spotted by Torino. A move to the top flight swiftly followed and Vieri enjoyed his first taste of Serie A in 1991. He managed just one goal in seven outings, but little did he know that it would prove to be the first of many.
The next five years brought five more transfers, and the nomadic forward began to forge a reputation as a thoroughbred with a trademark playing style. Nicknamed Bobo, he possessed impressive physical strength, swept aside opposition defenders with ease and allied fearsome aerial ability with a thunderous shot. Those qualities soon inspired another moniker – *Il Bisonte *(the Bison) – and also brought him a first Italy call-up while at Juventus during the 1997/98 season, after which he made the cut for the 1998 FIFA World Cup France™.
Baggio is undoubtedly one of greatest I played with, alongside Zinedine Zidane and Ronaldo.
"That was without doubt the greatest experience of my life," Vieri told FIFA.com. "Every footballer dreams about the World Cup and representing their country in the most important tournament on earth." He took to the event with panache too, hitting five goals on French soil and following up with four more at Korea/Japan 2002. "To play in two World Cups was an incredible experience. There was always an adrenaline rush and a special atmosphere. It was fantastic."
Those nine goals also make Vieri joint top scorer for La Squadra Azzurra in World Cup play, level with Paolo Rossi and Roberto Baggio. "I remember paying 10,000 Lira at one end of Fiorentina's ground to watch Baggio in action - it was crazy," said the 40-year-old, a huge admirer of the former playmaker. "I then found myself in the same squad as him at the World Cup. I couldn't believe my eyes. What's more, if he made a mess of a pass meant for me, he'd apologise. It was unbelievable."
Vieri later teamed up with Baggio at Inter Milan as well, and can pride himself on having shared a dressing room with some of the most outstanding footballers of the last two decades. "Baggio is undoubtedly one of greatest I played with, alongside Zinedine Zidane and Ronaldo," explained Bobo, who took in spells overseas with Atletico Madrid and Monaco. "Zizou *and I were together at *Juve and now, 15 years later, we still call and see each other. It's harder to get a hold of Ronaldo, though, as no-one ever answers his phone (laughs). I often get to play with my old team-mates, especially Paolo Maldini, who I see in Milan quite a lot."
Looking back, Vieri's switch to AC Milan in 2006 actually marked the end of his peak years. He made the move after six prolific campaigns with Inter – the only club where he spent more than a season – and was unable to replicate his form for I Nerrazzurri's fierce city rivals. Injuries took their toll and the years began catching up with the Bologna-born striker, who saw out the remainder of his career at a string of different Serie A sides.
His final port of call was Atalanta, where he had first truly exploded onto the scene, and Vieri played for just €1,500 per month – but above all for pleasure – before calling time in 2009. "It had already been quite a while that I didn't feel the same desire to train or to go to team meetings the day before a game," he said. "I didn't have the same motivation. When that happens, it's time to make the decision to stop, and I was able to do that without any problem. I'd been mulling it over for a while in my head; it wasn't a sudden impulse."
It did leave him looking for new ways to keep busy, though, and the charity matches organised by Zidane and Ronaldo soon provided one solution. "They're fundamentally important," Vieri explained at the 2014 Annual Match against Poverty, held to raise money for the Philippines in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan. "We had the chance of a lifetime, but there are so many other people who have problems. It's only right that we come together to do something for them. What I miss about football is being with the squad and finding myself among friends. That's another reason why I come to these charity games. You get to spend a little time together, enjoy yourself and do good for people."
Aside from his charity commitments, Vieri also started off by trying his hand at poker, real estate and then reality TV. Each new avenue brought issues of its own, however, and he eventually turned back to the one thing he knows best: football. Now a TV pundit for Italian coverage of Serie A, the Spanish Liga, Ligue 1, the UEFA Champions League and the 2014 FIFA World Cup, he is well placed to offer an expert opinion on La Nazionale's chances in Brazil this summer. "Italy are always tough to beat in a World Cup," he said. "They know how to defend well and show a lot of character."
As for his own character, he is pleased to note that his daily routine has changed little since he wreaked havoc in penalty boxes up and down the land. "I still get up early. I work for television and I have a sports clothing company, so I still have to travel quite frequently."