`THE Ringhio' is hugely popular

Gennaro Gattuso is a tough-tackling all-action player comfortable on the ball and capable of playing either in the centre or out wide, writes Andy Hampson.

Gennaro Gattuso, Italy's World Cup-winning defensive-minded player, is known as `the Ringhio' (the snarler) for his aggressive style. He is a hugely popular player with AC Milan, where he has won both the Champions League (2003) and Serie A (2004) but he attributes much of his toughness to a short spell with Scottish outfit Rangers early in his career.

Gattuso was born in Corrigliano Calabro, southern Italy. He grew up near the Ionian Sea and learnt to play football on the beach, he and his friends using fuel cans from fishing boats as goalposts.

He joined Perugia as a teenager but made only 10 first-team appearances for them before moving to Rangers at the age of 19 in 1997. His single full season in Glasgow proved his big breakthrough and he caught the eye as Rangers won the Scottish league and cup double that year.

"Eight or nine years ago I never thought I would play a semi-final of a World Cup and two Champions League finals," Gattuso said this summer during the World Cup, which Italy went on to win.

"I have to thank Rangers, they installed belief in me. My experience abroad was crucial. It shaped me as a player, made me mature as a man and gave me an international approach to sport and life."

Rangers changed managers in the summer of 1998 and Gattuso, having blossomed under Walter Smith, did not find favour with his replacement Dick Advocaat. He felt his game was being hampered as he played out of position at right-back and a GBP3 million move back to Italy with Salernitana was arranged in October 1998.

He needed just 10 months to impress and earn a GBP10 million move to Milan, where he has spent the past seven years.

He has become a more cultured player at the San Siro, Milan's passing style allowing him to develop. He is now a tough-tackling all-action player comfortable on the ball and capable of playing either in the centre or out wide.

International recognition came in 2000 and he was a member of the Italy side that won the UEFA Under-21 Championship that summer. He went on to play in the World Cups of 2002 and 2006 as well as Euro 2004.

Gattuso met his Scottish wife Monica — who is of Italian descent — during his time with Rangers. They met through her father, who owns an Italian restaurant in Glasgow. They were married in 2004 and together they have a daughter, Gabriela.

Off the field, Gattuso works part-time at his friend's pizzeria in Milan. He has also done some modelling work, appearing in a shower room in one photoshoot wearing Dolce and Gabbana underwear.

Gattuso went to the World Cup this summer with Milan under threat of demotion for their part in a match-fixing scandal. The club was eventually spared the drop to Serie B, which could have seen many players leave, and instead had points deducted. Milan had 44 points docked from their 2005-06 total, costing them their Champions League place, and were made to start 2006-07 on minus 15. These, however, were revised on appeal to 30 and seven. They were reinstated as Champions League qualifiers.

With Milan sponsored by Opel, Gattuso is not short of offers of cars to drive. Opel's range includes the high-powered Speedster, which is noted for its similarity to the Lotus Elise.

FACTFILE Name: Gennaro Gattuso Position: Midfielder Club: AC Milan DOB: 09/01/1978 Italy Caps: 47 Italy Goals: 1 Italy Debut: v Sweden, February 2000 Moment to remember

The highlight of Gattuso's career undoubtedly has to be the winning of the World Cup this summer. Italy overcame a tricky start in the tournament to advance to the final, with Gattuso even man of the match in the last-eight win over Ukraine. The crowning glory came in Berlin with Italy overcoming France on penalties after a 1-1 draw. He celebrated by taking his shorts off for his team's lap of honour — only to be told by a FIFA official to cover up.

Moment to forget

Milan were well on course to win a second Champions League in the space of three seasons as they opened up a 3-0 lead over Liverpool in the 2005 final in Istanbul. Liverpool fought back against all odds to win the game on penalties and send Milan into depression.

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