From Cockfosters to Soho is quite a trek on the tube: fourty five minutes to an hour of various bodies pushing, shoving, sleeping and competing for a seat. He doesn’t care. Despite his contract and salary, Emiliano Viviano, the Arsenal reserve goalkeeper, likes public transport. “I always take the tube or the bus. I’m the only one on the team who does. My teammates wouldn’t dream of moving around London in anything but a taxi, but who cares”.Yes, who cares. Emiliano is 190cm (6’2”), 28years old, and he always has a smile on his face. He moved to London last September, on loan from Palermo for a year. He is an unusual man: for a start, Cockfosters is an odd neighbourhood for a well paid footballer.
Why not Chelsea like all the Italians who can afford it? Chelsea? No way. Here I am close to the training ground and I get to live in a wonderful new house nestled between a park and a golf course. I have always loved the countryside, it’s what I’m used to, and Cockfosters is a village surrounded by open green spaces despite being a stop on the Piccadilly Line. When I arrived, the league had already started, the team showed me a flat, and I liked it so I took it. But do you honestly spend time in Cockfosters, or is it only a place to live? “When I’m not training I love to go around London. I like to see the streets, the people, everything. But in my neighbourhood I have my supermarket, the local shops, and my barber, who is a very nice guy from Cyprus.”Wow, the footballer who takes the tube is also a cook? “Of course! I come from a humble background, my parents were cooks. I love to cook for myself and friends who come and visit me. They often stay a while as I live here alone’”. And what do you do with your time when you are not training? “I come here for a schiacciata (the Italian focaccia made in Tuscanic, a little restaurant in Soho ndr), I like to try all the exotic cuisines that London has to offer (he proceeds to list enough restaurants to rival Time Out) and I also like reading. No way! The footballer who takes the tube, cooks and reads. You are an anomaly of the football world, you know that? “I know”, he giggles, “at the Italian Bookshop they call me “the footballer who reads” and they invite me to all their book presentations. I love thrillers. The last one I read is The Cormoran Strike which J.K Rowling wrote using the pseudonym of Robert Galbraith.
How was this year with such a major English team?
“Fantastic. The fans here are so different from Italy. The stadium is always full, they clap for you no matter what happens, even when you lose! There is so much passion and never any problems. People might occasionally shout insults in the stadium but then everyone goes to the pub for a drink.” And your English team mates? There aren’t many at Arsenal. Four or five, not more. The others are Spanish, French, South Korean. In Italy the team goes out to dinner at least once a week, not like here. Here we greet each other, we respect each other but I don’t even know the names of their wives or children. They are very reserved, but this is the way they are, I’m a guest here and I’ve learned to live with it”. Where will you go next year? I have no idea, my team will decide. I could come back to Arsenal, or I could go and play somewhere else. Who knows? I’m going on holiday for the moment, then I’ll see. But what about your family? How is it for the wife and kids when they don’t know where you’re going to be next year? “We’re used to it. Every year is a surprise, and surprises are good”. You’ll watch the World cup I suppose, you were in the National team a couple of years ago. “I will try, but it depends. I might be somewhere remote and far with my family, my children might require my attention after one year apart. Football is not everything, you know?”. That’s new! The footballer who takes the tube, cooks, reads and also has priorities. He smiles and bites a big chunk out of his schiacciata before heading back to his 45 minute journey home.