Internazionale FC's Christian Vieri has admitted he would give up football to play cricket.
By Kevin Buckley
On the pitch, Christian Vieri exerts a brooding sullen menace and a never-say-die kind of grit, which makes him the most charismatic Italian-Australian product since Russell Crowe played Maximus in the movie Gladiator. But ask Italian football journalists to describe 30-year-old Vieri, and they shrug and say: "E' un tipo strano" - "he's an odd one".
It doesn't help that he rarely speaks to them. This particular Christian has, after frequent clashes over his private life, had enough of being fed to the media lions: "They are not part of my life," he told Champions. "They don't know what I'm like, they don't know anything about me. I don't even read the papers any more."
Having scored 24 goals, in just 23 games for Internazionale FC last season in Serie A, Vieri lets his football do the talking, and he has been doing so since he returned to Italy as a teenager, following his family's emigration to Australia when the striker was three, to pursue his footballing ambitions. "My dream, when I was a little kid, to play in Serie A and for the national side is accomplished," he said. "Now I gotta win! I gotta win an important tournament."
Missing a clear chance against the Korean Republic at the finals of the 2002 FIFA World Cup as Italy surprisingly lost out to the hosts was Vieri's last chance of a major trophy on the world stage, and while he received criticism for his miss, it has not troubled him since.
"The way I am I can miss a goal like I did, even when about one metre from the goal," he said. "But inside I have a clear conscience. Because I train, I give always one hundred per cent. So I can score good goals, I can miss a really easy goal. But my conscience is completely clear. I don't even think about the goals I miss."
What he does miss is the feeling of being a winner - something he has been denied as Inter's long, barren run continues. "I don't know what to say really," Vieri said. "I think we've got a very good side. We've got to continue trying to play well because we haven't been playing well for the last couple of years."
Vieri has played alongside Alessandro Del Piero, Roberto Baggio, Gabriel Batistuta and Filippo Inzaghi. But, he said: "Ronaldo is the best. I always knew where he was, he always knew where I was - it was unbelievable. I've never been so perfect with a player in my life."
Vieri himself is an incredible athlete. His official page on the Inter club website boasts that he can sprint 30 metres in 3.9 seconds, jump a foot from a stationary position and run 3,100 metres in 12 minutes. However, despite possessing such an awesome physique, he would happily give up football in certain circumstances.
"Oh yeah," he said. "A hundred per cent. I would love to have been a cricketer. I was telling a friend of mine just last week, I would stop playing right now to play cricket if I could get the same contract. I was a bit of an all-rounder at school, but I would play batsman."
This article is an abridged version of an article which appears in the second issue of Champions, the official magazine of the UEFA Champions League, which is now on sale. Click here to subscribe now.