We’re fortunate in Milan to have seen some of the greatest players in history come through the city, playing for Inter, and as painful as it is to admit, A.C. Milan, too.
Since Milan is home to two premier Serie A clubs of elite athletes, we got to thinking: Did any of our local legends ever dominate in sports outside of football? The answer, as we discovered, is a resounding, yes!
As you’ll see, the Inter and A.C. Milan standouts on our list excelled at an interesting range of secondary sports that span from cricket to poker.
Christian Vieri – Cricket
Christian Vieri, affectionately known as “Bobo” to fans in Italy and around the world, spent time with 15 clubs during his 20-year professional career, including Serie A stalwarts Torino, Juventus, Inter and A.C. Milan.
But growing up around Sydney, Australia, cricket was Vieri’s first sporting passion. The two-time Serie A Player of the Year was an all-around cricketer in his youth and an especially skilled batsman.
By Vieri’s own assessment, he was better at cricket than football. That’s quite a claim coming from the gentleman who led both Serie A and La Liga (with Atletico Madrid in 1997-98) in scoring at various points throughout his career.
While playing with Inter in 2003, Vieri remarked to a reporter that he would leave football for cricket if offered a similar sized contract. Bobo was then finishing up a four-year, $50 million contract, the richest deal ever in global football when inked in 1999.
Good luck finding that kind of dough in cricket. We think Vieri’s decision to stick with football was the right call.
Ivan Perišić – Beach Volleyball
The current Inter winger’s punchy goals whip fans at San Siro and around the globe into frenzies. In other words, Ivan Perišić is the owner of battle-tested, golden feet. And as it turns out, he’s pretty good with his hands as well.
Perišić began playing beach volleyball in his native Croatia at the age of 10. Even as his football career rose to the greatest heights of the international stage, he always found time to lay opponents out in the sand with laser precision spikes.
Perišić made his international volleyball debut partnering with Niksa Dell’Orco to represent Croatia at the 2017 FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour for the Poreč Major tournament. The duo showed promise but ultimately lost to the Brazilian pairing of Álvaro Magliano De Morais Filho and Saymon Barbosa.
Oh, well. Serie A football isn’t a bad day job to fall back on anyway.
Ronaldo – Poker
Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima needs no introduction.
After all, the retired Brazilian is indisputably one of the all-time greatest footballers in Inter, Serie A and world history. The three-time FIFA World Player of the Year spent 1997 to 2002 as Inter’s menacing striker, racking up 39 goals in 68 appearances. Both Brazil and Italy inducted him into their Football Halls of Fame.
When Ronaldo wasn’t mowing through opponents on the pitch, he played quite a different kind of game: poker. As with football, Ronaldo brings a meticulous focus to his poker game, consistently refining his approach and learning from fellow players. In fact, he occasionally plays in high-stakes international tournaments to sharpen his poker strategy.
Ronaldo’s sports and entertainment agency 9ine, one of the most successful of its kind in Brazil, promotes poker events. His efforts have led to a rise in participation at the Brazilian Series of Poker (BSOP).
Zlatan Ibrahimović – Taekwondo
Remember Zlatan Ibrahimović? Of course, you do!
From 2006 to 2009, he was Inter’s prolific scoring striker, a period in which he was twice named to the UEFA Team of the Year. He also did a stint with A.C. Milan between 2010 and 2012.
Along with football, Ibrahimović excelled in taekwondo during his formative years in Sweden. In fact, he earned a black belt in the Korean martial art when he was only 17.
Ibrahimović continues to use taekwondo as an integral part of his training and fitness program. And he even flashes a taekwondo move or two while celebrating a few of his 520 career goals.
These days, you can find Ibrahimović playing in the U.S. with the LA Galaxy in the MLS.
Paolo Maldini – Tennis
Watch Paulo Maldini makes his case on the tennis court.
We must venture exclusively to the A.C. Milan side of San Siro for this one.
No big deal. You can’t deny Paolo Maldini’s claim as one of the greatest defenders the beautiful game has ever seen. For 25 seasons, Il Capitano stymied offenses for a Serie A powerhouse, racking up 26 trophies and the 2004 Serie A Defender of the Year award along the way. Maldini was an inductee of the Italian Football Hall of Fame in 2012.
So, Maldini must’ve poured every ounce of his athletic talent into football, right? Not quite. Somehow the Milan native also manages to be highly skilled at tennis, a game he started playing after retiring from football.
Within a few years, Maldini’s court game advanced enough to qualify for professional tennis tournaments. In June 2017, Maldini, along with doubles partner Stefano Landonio, competed in the Aspria Tennis Cup in Milan (where else!), a tournament on the ATP Challenger Tour.
Unfortunately, Maldini’s domination didn’t quite transfer from the pitch to the court. He and Landonio lost their opening round match to Tomasz Bednarek and David Pelby.
Do any of these multi-sport footballers surprise you? Not likely, as you’ll know each player on our list is supremely talented if you’ve followed Milan clubs for a time. That’s doubly true if they spent time at San Siro running the pitch for the Red and Blacks!