WORLD SOCCER: Are Inter going to win the scudetto?

Christian Vieri: I daren’t even say the word scudetto. You can say that we’ll win it, if you like, but I’m keeping quiet. It’s certainly an Inter team to be scared of – we’re tough to beat, we’ve got pace, we score often and we close down the opposition.

But Inter often play defensively.
It’s important to know how to defend – in Italy, that’s the most important thing. But defence alone doesn’t bring results. Perhaps there have been times when we haven’t done enough to win a game, but we’re certainly improving. I said to the guys after our win at Piacenza that we have to get meaner. We’re also missing a few players – Dalmat is injured but in a couple of years he’s going to be one of the best attacking players in the world. Conceicao, as soon as he’s back in shape, will once again be one of the greatest wingers. And Georgatosis a left-sided player of a quality that’s rarely seen.

You said recently that at the start of the season you couldn’t have foreseen such a strong Inter side.
That’s right. After all the problems of the previous seasons, it was impossible to believe that we’d see everything going so brilliantly.

Has Hector Cuper been the solution?
We need someone who is demanding and exacting – and he’s the right man for the job. What have been the changes over the past season? We are now working well together and we’re calmer.

Does that mean that before, under Lippi and Tardelli, that wasn’t the case?
No, let’s not confuse matters – I’m not accusing anyone.

How was the year 2001 for you?
It was a year in which, at long last, I was able to play with continuity, because I’ve been in continuously good physical shape.

Towards the end of the last season, you were on the point of leaving Inter. And it was said that last summer, you weren’t an easy person to be with.
I must confess, it was a tense time for me. It wasn’t an easy summer. But sometimes, when things go badly, it can teach you a great deal. If people say your career is on the skids, or if they’re sarcastic about you behind your back, or tell lies about things you are supposed to have done – all this can, in fact, make you stronger inside.

What sort of lies?
Vieri is overdoing the nightlife. Vieri changes his woman every day. Vieri is unreliable. Things I don’t listen to. I listen only to my own conscience. So, yes, I was having a bad time last summer, until July 12, my birthday, in fact, and the day on which (club president Massimo) Moratti called me in and we cleared the air. From that day, I was reborn as an ‘Inter-ista’.

Moratti had known you for two years, though. What was it he said that day that made you change your point of view?
We just got a chance to get things off our chest and see each other’s point of view. Being the sort of person I am, I’m not going to phone a club president. And he rarely came to see the team. But that day, we spoke openly. He told me how he intended to build up a truly great Inter side, and I was in complete agreement with him. It was a great feeling – a high point of 2001 for me. Among the matters we found common ground on were the fact that we did not have to play both Ronaldo and Vieri.In fact, this year we’ve seen arrive Toldo, Cristiano Zanetti, Conceicao, Materazzi, Emre, Kallon, Okan, Georgatos – all quality players. That’s how we’re getting to the top of our game.

And Ronaldo?
We waited patiently for him to recover, and in fact he came back early, which made me very happy because he’s one of my best friends. The whole world wanted to see us play together, and we are the strongest partnership there is. We made it clear to everyone that Ronaldo-Vieri had been worth thewait. Now, he has a minor injury, but that’s only to be expected because his body is still getting used to daily training sessions.

You, too, have had a number of injuries.
The truth is, I’ve only had one significant injury, the one that stopped me going to the European Championship with Zoff. The rest were only minor, but I had to be careful in case someone tackled me recklessly. It’s the price I pay for my style of play – I throw myself on to every ball and I never avoid going in for headers.

What are your greatest strengths?
I always used to follow my instinct. But nowadays I count to three before I react.

This season is the first in which no one is talking of Vieri seeking a transfer.
I think I’ve found the ideal team and the perfect city. I used to move every year or so in order to get the widest experience. But I’ve had enough of that now and I’m staying put.

This interview appeared in the March 2002 issue of World Soccer