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Italy's Mr Grump makes stunning comeback

James Richardson

Tuesday May 8, 2007

Guardian Unlimited

Who is the grumpiest man in football? Is it Jose Mourinho? Big Sam Allardyce? Or whoever is in charge of keeping Richard Keys' chest waxed? Just possibly, readers, is it actually top Aussie-Italian sourpuss Christian Vieri, a man so very glum that he once refused to celebrate scoring goals for a whole season? Let's be frank; it is.

Vieri, you'll recall, has a puss so sour that during his dismal showing at Euro 2004 he informed journalists at an Italy press conference: "I'm more of a man than all of you put together. I can walk down the street with my head held high. I can look at myself in the mirror, but you [waving a finger at the astonished hacks] cannot." And this was on one of his good days. No, rarely has the game of football seen a player as unmoved by his own success as Vieri (possibly because he actually much preferred cricket), but this weekend brings startling news of the man. Christian is now reborn; he's now not only scoring again, but he's (sort of) celebrating too.

Vieri's comeback goal came 10 minutes after he took the field in Atalanta's 3-1 win over Siena. Take a look, because it's a stunner. What makes it so remarkable is not just the physical feat of scoring from that position, but the fact that this was Vieri's first goal in 18 months, a period during which he had spent more time out of the game than in it.

A former top scorer in both Serie A and La Liga, Vieri's career was already starting to slide when he opened his fat-headed gob at that infamous press conference in 2004. After a poor campaign for Inter the following season, the Milanese club offered him ?6m to buy out his contract, only to then see him join arch-rivals Milan on a free just days later. However, five months with the rossoneri saw him score a grand total of just one goal, and in January 2006 he left Milan for Monaco, spurred on by Marcello Lippi's frankly unfathomable notion that an Italy place might still be his. Instead, a ruptured knee brought any remaining World Cup ambitions to an end.

Italy didn't miss him in Germany, but for Vieri the disappointment proved almost impossible to stomach. He hinted at quitting the game. There was talk of the notoriously press-shy striker joining a reality TV show. July saw him sign up at Sampdoria, but just two weeks later he'd left again, apparently in the grips of a world-class depression. His career looked over, but Vieri - who by now had become one of the world's highest-earning players with a portfolio of restaurants, bars, two clothing lines and a range of sunglasses to his name - had a surprise up his sleeve.

In September he signed for Atalanta, the Bergamo-based side where he'd played as a young lad more than 10 years before, alongside another of life's great smilers, Pippo Inzaghi. This time Atalanta offered him a minimum-wage deal and a huge bonus for any goals he scored, which, given his recent form and the fact he didn't even begin training until November, looked a bit of a long shot.

But lo, in his fifth appearance off the bench for the orobici, comes a goal that Vieri describes as his "greatest ever". His fans might dispute that - there was a screamer for Inter against Parma that springs to mind - but this was certainly something special: Vieri receiving the ball with his back to goal 40-odd yards out, flicking it up, spinning and slamming it into the Siena net almost half a pitch away. Footage then appears to show him celebrating, although naturally his face retains all the resolute grimness of a man repossessing a sick kid's wheelchair.

"I'm happy," muttered the big man post-match. "It's a very emotional moment for me after a year out of the game. Scoring is tough enough, but from 40 yards out..." The strike was enough to eliminate a year's worth of doubts over his future as a player, with rumours already building that a move to Fiorentina or another big side could follow. "We'll see at the end of the season," glowers Christian. "I'm grateful to Atalanta and the faith they showed in me. Right now I'm just concentrating on these last three games."

And no prizes for guessing on which of those games he's concentrating most, for in 10 days Atalanta will be facing Vieri's former side Inter. Here there is a bit of history: just last autumn Inter's president Massimo Moratti admitted that the club had regularly spied on Christian during his time there and even tapped his phone. Vieri, ever one to see the lighter side, responded with a ?14m lawsuit citing "moral and existential damage" to his public image. A goal against Inter now and, who knows, even scary Vieri might crack a smile.

Before that, next weekend sees the relegation battle continue. Last Sunday's games confirmed Ascoli and Messina as the first two sides down, with Siena now in the hot-seat to join them courtesy of that loss to Atalanta. However, with another seven teams within just three points of them and with three games to go, this race is still wide open. Parma fans will be sad to hear that the emiliani are back near the wrong end of this group again after their winning streak ended at Chievo, but at least they have the easiest fixture of any of the eight threatened teams next week, hosting Messina. Details of that and much, much more in next week's column.

Last weekend's results: Milan 0 - 0 Fiorentina, Atalanta 3 - 1 Siena, Cagliari 2 - 1 Udinese, Chievo 1 - 0 Parma, Empoli 2 - 1 Catania, Lazio 1 - 0 Livorno, Messina 0 - 1 Inter, Palermo 1 - 2 Roma, Sampdoria 0 - 0 Reggina, Torino 1 - 0 Ascoli

(and there you were thinking this was another Zlatan thread!)

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another rubbishy article- more people need to abuse the press to remind their ossipy, invasive moral-less cheque-chasing braindead filth from mass media. journalism is dead

vieri was an incredible athlete with more power than any player i've seen before or after- shearer and adriano compare but they lack in speed or balance respective what he had combined. Freakshow- love that guy. He was never "sour" to begin with, he was a naturally talented player with a love of long, cracking 47 yard drives- a player after my own heart. Some people have way to much patience with the media- I am from the lippi/vieri school of: ehm... excuse me, harvard degree in being observative, did you leave your sense of decency in your audi or stock portfolio.

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