Nomad: a person who does not stay long in the same place; a wanderer.
Clubs: Torino, Pisa, Ravenna, Venezia, Atalanta, Juventus, Atletico Madrid, Lazio, Inter Milan, AC Milan, Monaco, Sampdoria, Atalanta, Fiorentina, Atalanta
Countries played in: 3
Most professional footballers go through their whole career only having a handful of clubs. In fact, some manage to spend their whole career at one club. Being a one-club man is something than endears football players to a fan base and is generally seen as the ultimate display of loyalty. However, what about those players that don’t manage to settle. The players who don’t find a home in their short professional career and instead jump from club to club in a pursuit of challenges and success. This series looks at those players who are footballing nomads; wanderers.
Christian Vieri is one of Italy’s greatest ever strikers and almost certainly their most travelled, having plied his trade at 15 clubs in the span of an 18-year professional career. Vieri’s penchant for travel, and a transfer, may have been harboured in his youth, given he moved all the way from Bologna to Sydney at the age of four as a result of his father’s own career – it’s from him, Roberto, where the nickname “Bobo” was inherited from.
Vieri’s youth playing career also began at his father’s Sydney based club, with the little-known Marconi Stallions. Not quite where you’d expect a future Azzuri frontman to start off. It was another sport, cricket, however, which caught the attention of Vieri in his 11 years down under – he later claimed he’d quit football for it.
Upon returning to Italy in 1988, Vieri played for local youth sides in Tuscany before moving to Torino and the bright lights of Serie A. From here, it was as if he was making up for lost time and childhood trips and holidays, as he explored Italy at a near-yearly rate; only finding any form of long-term residence in Milan. It’s likely he rented everywhere else.
In Turin, Bobo rose quickly through the ranks to make his Serie A debut at the tender age of 18, but that was about it. A few more appearances came, accompanied by a solitary league goal before he was sent back down the pyramid to Serie B. At Torino, Vieri was an unused substitute in the 1991-92 UEFA Cup final loss to Ajax – disappointment like this would become a feature of his career.
After spending just over a season with Torino, Vieri reduced his average length of stay with three transfers in three seasons. The 1992-93 season would be spent at Pisa, 1993-94 with Ravenna and 1994-95 with Venezia, with a total of 25 goals across the three clubs. Solid if not spectacular, and certainly not the conventional route of a future world-record fee holder.
Serie A came calling again in the summer of ’95 in the shape of Atalanta – this would be the first of three stop-offs for Bobo in Bergamo during his career. Taking into account the side he was playing for and the standard of defending in the then-best league in the world, a tally of nine goals from 21 appearances was a respectable return, and one that caught the attention of Italy’s biggest club and newly-crowned European champions, Juventus.
The Old Lady parted with £2.5 million to secure Vieri’s services as a replacement, alongside fellow recruit Alen Boksic, to Gianluca Vialli and Fabrizio Ravanelli. The two would form an attacking quartet headlined by Alessandro Del Piero, king of Turin, and Zinedine Zidane, fresh off his own transfer from Bordeaux.
Vieri’s second stint in Turin was in stark contrast to his first, both on an individual and team level. His 14 goals made him the club’s joint-top scorer in both Serie A and Europe, alongside Del Piero, and helped the side to the Scudetto, UEFA Super Cup and Intercontinental Cup. Disappointment came in the form of a shock loss to Borussia Dortmund in the European Cup final, although Vieri was a starter this time and had scored in both legs of the semi-final.
This proved to be Bobo’s last game for the club, as Atletico Madrid, and their eccentric owner Jesus Gil, made Vieri their no.1 target in the summer of 1997. He swapped Turin for Madrid to the tune of £12.5 million, the first of three successive big-money moves. Vieri later said in his 2015 autobiography the move was motivated by finances, and if he could turn back time, he’d have stayed with Juventus.
Not that these motivations did anything to slow down his on-field performances. To the contrary in fact. His sole season in La Liga saw him receive the “Pichici trophy” for top-scorer with 24 goals in 24 appearances, and finished with 29 in 32 in all competitions. This form came somewhat from nowhere, given it was double his total in any previous season, and propelled him to Italy’s first-choice no.9 for the 1998 World Cup.
His exploits in both La Liga and the subsequent World Cup increased his stock back home, and made him one of the most sought-after strikers in the world. Lazio, then high-rollers and big-spenders under Sven Goran Eriksson, brought him back to Serie A for a £17.5 million fee.
Vieri’s time in the Eternal City was hampered by injury, leading to his goal return falling to 14 (in 28 appearances), but he contributed to team success. He scored the opening goal in the final ever Cup Winners’ Cup final, as Lazio ran out 2-1 winners over Mallorca. Unfortunately, and somewhat fittingly for Vieri, this victory acted as a launch pad to greater heights for the club as a league and Coppa Italia double followed the next season, by which time he had long departed, of course.
Fellow big-spenders Inter Milan, under the ownership of Massimo Moratti, splurged a world record £32 million on Vieri in 1999. It was here that he finally found a place he could call home.
Moratti’s intention with the signing was the formation of a dream pairing with Ronaldo and ending a ten-year title drought for the club.
The dream soon turned to a nightmare as Vieri and Ronaldo played together just 11 times in the three seasons both were at the club, as a consequence of the Brazilian’s knee injuries. Instead, Vieri played with a whole host of strikers – Roberto Baggio, Ivan Zamarano, Alvaro Recoba, Hernan Crespo, Adriano and even Robbie Keane, a fellow nomad.
Managers were a similar story, with the man who signed him, Marcello Lippi (also his manager at Juventus) sacked early into his second season, and Marco Tardelli not making it past the end of that season.
There was no league title to speak of either, in large part due to the dysfunctionality that engulfed the club. The closest they came was the 2001-2002 season. Hector Cuper, of Valencia fame, was at the helm. Vieri was fit and firing – 22 league goals in total. Ronaldo returned for the run-in. The stars had aligned (both figuratively and literally). On the final day of the season, Vieri’s old club Lazio stood in the way. A win and the title would return to the San Siro. He opened the scoring before Inter collapsed, losing 4-2 in the end, and handing the title to Juventus.
There was no title challenge the following season but Vieri was top scorer in Serie A, with 24 league goals in just 23 games. This made him the first player to ever top score both Serie A and La Liga – Cristiano Ronaldo later achieved the same feat.
The goals continued to come in his last two seasons with Inter, 17 in each campaign taking him over the 100 mark and leaving him with a total of 123 in 190 appearances from a six-year spell. A trophy finally came too in 2005 in the form of the Coppa Italia, but just as luck would have it, Vieri wasn’t involved in either legs of the final. He departed Inter soon after.
Not that he went far, signing on for arch-rivals AC Milan – maybe he just didn’t fancy moving house for the umpteenth time. His time in the Red and Black was short lived, a single goal in six months landing him the dubious honour of worst Serie A player in the 2005-2006 season.
In a bid to make the 2006 World Cup squad, Vieiri moved to Monaco in January of that year, but a knee injury soon put paid to those hopes.
From here, his career turned into a series of short-term flings with limited return. He signed for Sampdoria in July 2006, but didn’t play a single game before joining Atalanta in August. A year there was followed by another with Fiorentina, before his third act in Atalanta came and went, signalling the end of his career at the culmination of the 2008-09 season.
At international level, Vieri’s career mirrored a lot of his club career – individual brilliance not matched by team success, due to a mixture of bad luck and injury. He remains the Azzuri’s top scorer in tournaments, with nine goals, all coming in nine World Cup appearances. However these came in tournaments ending in early exits, and he missed out on 2006 glory. His European championship record reads as: played 3, scored 0 as Italy crashed out of the groups in 2004, and he again was injured in 2000, where Italy lost in the final.
Looking back, Christian “Bobo” Vieri is probably one of the most underrated and least heralded players of his era, both in Italy and Europe. Despite commanding a world-record fee at a point in time, his name is rarely mentioned with the greats of the late 90s to early 00s. Perhaps it’s due to the slightly unaesthetic nature of his play and his lack of great success while he was at his peak.
He probably doesn’t overly care about all of this, more content with enjoying a glass of wine, watching the summer cricket and thinking about one last possible transfer.