ROME (AP) — Robbie Keane’s home fridge contained 300 beers and nothing else. Luigi Di Biagio orchestrated an overnight escape from training camp in his pajamas. Álvaro Recoba used to hide in the woods to avoid long-distance runs during soccer practice.
Those are just a sampling of the many entertaining revelations from Christian Vieri’s informal talk show on Instagram Live, which has quickly gained a devoted audience of followers during the coronavirus lockdown.
What started as joking around between Vieri — the former high-scoring Italy forward — and former Inter Milan teammates Daniele Adani and Nicola Ventola, who are now TV commentators, has developed into a late-night ritual emanating from Vieri’s apartment in downtown Milan.
On a nightly basis, Vieri calls up his old teammates scattered throughout Italy and around the world to reminisce about their time together in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Guests have included international stars like Ronaldo, Hernán Crespo and Juan Sebastián Verón; along with Italians Francesco Totti, Paolo Maldini, Filippo Inzaghi, Alessandro Nesta and Marco Materazzi.
With all the former players stuck at home, the underlying theme is complaining about how they can’t take it anymore. Such as this exchange with Ronaldo, the two-time World Cup winner for Brazil who played some of his best soccer at Inter with Vieri:
Ronaldo starts off by explaining that he’s at home alone in Spain after his family left for Brazil: “I never suffered in soccer. Now I’m really suffering.”
Vieri responds: “That’s because you used to make defenders suffer.”
Ronaldo then says: “Playing was a joy for me. It was only training that I didn’t like.”
Then there was Vieri’s riff on Keane, the former Ireland captain who spent half a season at Inter in 2000:
“I still keep in touch with him. When he arrived I was the only person who spoke English. So one night I went to his home and he asked me if I wanted something to drink. I said, ‘Yeah, I’ll have a Coca-Cola.’ I open the fridge and all he’s got in there are 300 beers,” Vieri said before keeling over in laughter out of the camera’s view.
There’s a sense that Vieri is letting fans listen in on his private conversations, and the discussions provide an unfiltered glance into the players’ personal lives, beginning with Vieri himself.
The show began around the time that Vieri’s second daughter, Isabel, was born on March 25.
Between talking about his daughters’ sleeping patterns and how anxious he is over his newborn child (“I’m constantly checking throughout the night to make sure she’s breathing”), the 46-year-old Vieri also muses about how overweight he is (he says he weighs 106.5 kilograms, or 235 pounds), how he can’t read anymore without eyeglasses, and how his back is a constant source of pain because he spends most of his time during the lockdown sitting on his sofa.
“Ten years after you’ve retired you fall apart,” Vieri, who retired in 2009, told Totti, who stopped playing in 2017.
Having played for so many big teams — Juventus, Atletico Madrid, Lazio, Inter, AC Milan, Monaco and Fiorentina, plus Italy’s national team — Vieri has an extensive rolodex of contacts to draw from.
Di Biagio, who now manages Spal in Serie A, recalled how he and Vieri ran off from Inter’s preseason training camp one night because they couldn’t stand the heat in their room. They got some funny looks from the doorman of Vieri’s building in Milan when they showed up in their pajamas.
“It came out that we had been out all night at the discos,” Vieri said.
Ventola told how Recoba hid in the bushes when the team was ordered to do 1-kilometer runs: “He would skip 600-700 meters.”
While Vieri speaks English perfectly since he grew up in Australia, all of the interviews have so far been conducted in Italian.
Viewership numbers for the show, which usually begins at 10:30 p.m. (2030 GMT) and lasts past midnight, average about 50,000 and sometimes reach close to 100,000 — more than the capacity of the San Siro stadium where Vieri used to play.
For someone who never had a good relationship with the media during his playing days, the show is a testament to Vieri’s conversational skills.
During the 2004 European Championship, Vieri memorably told a roomful of journalists he was “more of a man than all of you put together,” in reaction to a series of articles criticizing his performance.
Now, Vieri is showing many journalists that he’s more of an expert at their game, too.
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Andrew Dampf is at https://twitter.com/AndrewDampf