With the game’s evolution to a more tiki-taka style – influenced by the revolutionary thoughts of Pep Guardiola – the art of an old-fashioned centre-forward is now not as prominent. It is still used effectively by some but it is certainly in decline. But, one Italian striker from the past perfected it so well that any team – including one managed by Guardiola – would kill for his services; Italian legend, Christian Vieri.
The bullish striker was an unstoppable force in his prime, combining power, skill and clinical finishing into a package that terrified defences across Europe. Between the years of 1991 and 1997, a nomadic Vieri learned the ins and outs of the game, scoring goals for the likes of Torino, Atalanta, Venezia and Juventus, but it was one move in particular which thrust the stocky Italian into the European spotlight.
Leaving the comforts of his homeland, Vieri – who’s name was being whispered by many after his performances with Juve – made the move to the Spanish capital, joining Atletico. Here, the tale of one of Europe’s finest goal scorers began it’s progression to superstardom. Despite injuries – something which would plague his career – Vieri scored 24 goals in 24 games, winning the Pichichi trophy.
The Italian was yet another reflection of Atleti’s uncanny ability to pluck strikers from around the world and turn them into prolific machines. Diego Forlan, Sergio Aguero, Fernando Torres, the list really is endless, but Vieri’s prowess for the La Liga side is often forgotten. Even the great Rivaldo couldn’t match his output with the Brazilian in second place in the Pichichi rankings with 19 strikes to his name.
Naturally, the footballing world took notice of the often surly Vieri with Lazio bringing him back to Italy in 1998. Back then, Serie A was able to attract the finest players in Europe and in Rome, the striker further enhanced his status. Before his first appearance for Lazio, Vieri was in France for the 1998 World Cup where he scored six goals, tied for the silver shoe with Fiorentina striker Gabriel Batistuta.
He arrived back in Serie A as an enigmatic force, a colossus of a striker with a more sharpened clinical edge. Injuries would plague his spell in Rome but when he did feature, Vieri was a man mountain, scoring 14 goals in 28 games and in the summer of 1999, he would become the most expensive player in the world.
Inter Milan saw fit to splash £32m on the surly-faced forward and in the famous blue and black jersey, Vieri would enter the club’s folklore as a goal scoring Goliath. Surprisingly, Inter would never win a Scudetto with him leading the line but his efficiency and class were a sight to behold. If both he and Ronaldo weren’t plagued with injuries, Inter could have laid claim to having one of the greatest striking partnerships ever seen.
Sadly, that combination was rarely seen but Vieri did establish a potent connection with Hernan Crespo and he was openly disgusted when the club opted to sell the Argentine to Chelsea. By the time the sale was announced, injuries had taken it’s toll on the Italian. An injury picked up against Valencia in 2003 had seen him return without the yard of explosive pace that made him the feared entity he was.
Adriano was now the club’s talisman and in 2005, Vieri would leave Inter with 103 goals to his name in just 143 games. He would bounce around a few more clubs including AC Milan, Monaco and Fiorentina but his career never restarted. However, for five years at Inter, he was perhaps the finest advocate of the classic old-fashioned centre-forward. He was reminiscent of Alan Shearer, a man capable of brute force but one that had the skill of a smaller man.
Vieri was a man capable of scoring a goal from nothing, a monster in the air, two-footed and with the uncanny ability to direct the ball between the posts. Few in the modern day can replicate the unique style and class of the Italian.