Billio dons smiling habit again

CALL him Pat, Patrizio or even Paddy, as some new Aberdeen team-mates have chosen to do. Whatever the variation, the man managed to cultivate a bit of a bad name with Dundee, or at least seemed to possess the knack of inspiring bad news.

Now he is the smiling Patrizio Billio of Aberdeen FC, and no longer persona non grata under the Bonetti regime on Tayside.

Marco Negri, the elusive pimpernel of Ibrox in years gone by, is known to Billio, which is significant as both have endured peripatetic footballing careers, and in Scotland saw worthwhile starts - in Negri’s case, it was spectacular - come apart. They were transformed into invisible men.

When Billio pitched up at Dundee, he was acting on advice from the sage Negri, who had urged him to try Scotland. This was from one who was struck down by a squash ball, and saw his Rangers career fizzle out. This summer, back in Italy playing bounce games to maintain fitness, he once again came across Negri, doing likewise. It’s a strange world.

Billio says that after spells with Bologna and Cagliari last season, Negri was also looking for a new club in Europe, by which he meant outwith Italy. Asked if they harboured mutual sympathy over past predicaments, Billio shakes his head. "It was completely different. I don’t know exactly Marco’s story. I know my story. And it was nothing to do with football."

It was everything to do with Ivano Bonetti. What lurks within the mind of Billio, so long without first-team football, so embroiled in mighty strange goings-on that were spread over the wrong sections of newspapers during his turbulent time at Dens Park? Resentment? "I don’t really understand why everything happened, but I have so many emotions, it is impossible to put them down."

What sparked the problems? "It wasn’t on the pitch," he says cryptically. "I’m sure of that. It wasn’t on the pitch." A big clash of personalities, then? "Ask Ivano Bonetti. Because right now I don’t know."

I ask if it is true that, before everything, Bonetti had been his good friend. "No!" he exclaims. "It’s not true. He’s...a friend of his was a friend of mine, but he wasn’t my friend at all. And I prefer that."

Billio and his partner in crime in the eyes of Dundee FC officialdom, Marco De Marchi, were banished from the first team, fined heavily for missed training sessions, and forced to train with the youngsters and eventually on their own. In January, both were involved in an incident by the front porch of Dens Park that has never been fully explained. Billio claimed to have been headbutted by an assailant with Dundee director of football Paul Marr at the scene; Billio went to hospital, Marr was aquitted in court.

And despite all that transpired, and by a twist of fate, Billio narrowly outlasted Bonetti when the manager was dismissed before the player was released a year before the end of his contract.

"I told him: ‘You will be away before me’," Billio declares. "It happened, and it was the only consolation. But I am angry because I lose time. I lose games, and my career is important, you know. Life in football is a short career, and I lose time. Just like that. You ask me about it, and I try to think about myself, and at the end the real point is time.

"I missed a lot of football, and everybody who knows me knows that when I play football I am happy. When I don’t play I am very unhappy. Everybody has something that they love a lot. But a lot of people helped me - my family, my girlfriend - since I had many bad moments. When you don’t see the exit, you don’t see the way out, you say why? It’s no good. Maybe it was my destiny, and that’s that.

"I’m sure my destiny now is to come back. With Aberdeen."

Aberdeen were keen on Billio months ago when he was stewing away in oblivion down the coast. Others were interested, too, and Bonetti made it clear many a time, until he got fed up talking about it, that he wanted rid of Billio. The player says he wanted to leave.

Chief executive Peter Marr maintained that Billio and De Marchi were fleecing the club, and lowering Dundee’s reputation. Asked about Marr’s opinion, Billio responds with "no comment".

Where is Marco now? "I don’t know."

When you finally left Dundee, did you say your goodbyes? "Yeah, but very few."

He is making friends at Aberdeen. As we sit down for the interview, a few locals are ushered in for Billio autographs. He complies with a smile and a few cheery words. First impressions are good, and he hopes to be making an impression on manager Ebbe Skovdahl soon - perhaps on Wednesday with the visit of Dundee United. He is on a short-term contract until January, and if both parties are happy, his intention is to remain at Pittodrie.

Billio admires Skovdahl’s honesty and directness, traits that he associates with himself. He says the same about Scots, like the folks in Aberdeen "maybe trying to help me make up for bad experiences". He accepts some might find his decision to live in such close proximity to Dundee a little odd, but explains his motivation positively.

He wants to show Patrizio Billio, the footballer, to the public, and anyway he likes Scotland, and seemingly has not been totally soured by past events. He finds Aberdeen different and organised.

Does he mean more professional than Dundee was under Bonetti? He laughs..."You ask me difficult questions."

Patrizio/Pat/Paddy does not feel that he is owed a break, but rationalises the position thus:

"I accept I’m 28, and so I didn’t play for one year. It’s like I had a bad injury. But I prefer not to have a bad injury, and I come back. So I just think about that. Lose one year. Come back. My opinion is that I started in a good way in Scotland, and I want to keep running.

"My experience at Dundee was not about what happened on the pitch. I took two red cards in one year, and after that I played four or five games. My last game was against Hibs. I think he subbed me. Okay, so I go on the bench. That is okay. So what happened to me? It is not strange. It is more than strange.

"Play a game. Two weeks later training. Alone. No reason. Nobody explains to me. Nobody said nothing." He falls silent.

Treviso-born Billio, who practised midfield as an AC Milan youth observing Frank Rijkaard and Dimitrio Albertini and listening to Arrigo Sacchi and Fabio Capello, played throughout Italy, and was brought to Dundee shortly after an ill-fated spell at Crystal Palace. He began at Dens under Jocky Scott. Bonetti came in, Billio signed a new three-year contract, and scored the first goal of the season in a win over Motherwell.

That was more than two years ago. Billio managed nine games after that, including the two red-card affairs, but it was not pitch indiscipline which ended his Dens career: he has not played first-team football for 22 months.

As I leave Billio in his new surroundings, who should arrive at Pittodrie but Jocky Scott. A coincidence. Now if it had been Marco Negri, that would have been truly strange.