Marco Negri, now aged 37 and presumably retired from professional football, continues to prove as elusive to pursuing journalists as he was to defenders at the height of his turbulent but fascinating playing career. Negri was the man brought to Ibrox by Walter Smith in 1997 with the express purpose of scoring the goals that would deliver a record-breaking 10th consecutive league title for Rangers.

For the first few months, he did all that and more. Frankly, he was a striking phenomenon who scored goals as nonchalantly as he probably brushed his teeth at night.

Negri had arrived from Perugia as a name familiar in Scotland only to keen students of the Italian game. The rest of us would soon become better informed as the goals followed in torrents, a remarkable 33 arriving in only 26 appearances, including five in one game against Dundee United.

Somewhat surprisingly, Negri greeted each notch as if an ice cream van had just run over his cat, further adding to the growing feeling that we were witnessing the work of a genuine enigma.

Negri, in fact, would become the subject of a debate similar to that which has raged around Kris Boyd during his time at Rangers, with supporters weighing up his worth in goals against his overall contribution - or lack thereof - to Smith's side.

Ewan Chester, Rangers' chief scout, saw first-hand both sides of moody Marco after travelling to Perugia to watch Negri in action towards the end of the 1996/1997 season.

"Perugia were taking on Roma desperate for a victory as they looked to stave off relegation that year," he recalls. "They had 10 men giving their all, fighting for every ball and flying into tackles . . . and then you had Marco with the beard and long hair who didn't seem to be trying at all.

"He didn't track back, wasn't pressing the Roma defence and didn't seem to be working for the team. But he just seemed to come alive in the final third.

"He scored one, set up the other and hit the crossbar as Perugia won 2-0. I came back and said to Walter: If you're going down the road of creating a hard-working team then he's not the man, but if you want a guy who will get you 30 goals a season then he's perfect'.

"It was just a tragedy when it went wrong as you couldn't help wondering what he might have become."

Negri's slide into oblivion was as dramatic as his rise to prominence. An eye injury reportedly sustained in a squash match with Sergio Porrini, his Rangers team-mate, started the decline and a stream of ailments soon followed.

He caught pneumonia, suffered a back injury and had to undergo surgery to cure a hernia problem and, with Negri sidelined more often than he was fit, Celtic eventually overhauled their great rivals to deny Rangers that much sought-after tenth consecutive title.

A new manager in Dick Advocaat seemed to offer the Italian a clean slate to recapture that early form, but he would feature only three more times for Rangers before being off-loaded to Bologna in 2001, bringing his tumultuous time in Scotland, that had started so triumphantly, to a whispering end.

Negri clearly did not subscribe to Richard Gough's theory that "the team that drinks together, wins together", eschewing team-bonding and boozy bashes for extended periods of solitude.

Jorg Albertz, the rather more gregarious German, recalls a quiet man who only really came to life on the football pitch.

"When he joined Rangers at the start he was a fantastic goalscorer and a really important player in our time. His goals were really valuable.

"He was a nice guy but very quiet in the dressing room. I didn't hang about with him much away from the stadium, but I don't think he was the kind of guy that went clubbing or anything like that.

"It was a shame when it all went wrong as we all thought he had a brilliant career in front of him. He just seemed to disappear when he left Rangers, I don't think many of the guys ever heard from him again."

After Bologna, Negri pitched up at Cagliari and then Livorno, where Roberto Donadoni, now head coach of the Italian national team, offered him yet another lifeline. In typical fashion, he scored four goals in his first three games at the Tuscan club before rapidly running out of steam.

Not even a return to Perugia, where he had made his name, could belatedly kick-start his career and he made only three appearances in Serie B before once more retreating into the shadows.

Curiously, he returned to the UK in 2004 where he attempted to earn a deal with Derby County. A reel of Negri in action had found its way to Pride Park where Steve McClaren, Derby's erstwhile assistant manager, described it as "one of the most impressive videos I had ever seen".

Steve Nicholson, County beat reporter at the Derby Evening Telegraph, remembers the case of yet another false start for Negri who, after a five-day trial, was again deemed surplus to requirements.

"At that time, County were desperately looking to bolster their striking department but had no money to spend," Nicholson said. "So they looked everywhere for a striker and one that they could get as cheaply as possible. Negri's was a name that kept popping up as a possible signing, but in the end it never materialised. I've no idea what happened to him after that."

Nicholson is not alone in that regard. Negri's trail disappears after Derby and even Lorenzo Amoruso, his one-time friend and team-mate, remains unsure of his whereabouts.

"I haven't heard from him in about eight years now. I think he's still in Italy but I've no idea what he's doing now."

Chester added: "In all my travels over the years, I've never come across anyone who has come into contact with Marco. He was such a reclusive guy, it would not surprise me if he had turned his back on football entirely."

The fairy tale that turned sour is still looking for an ending.

. . . and the rest? n Marco Negri apart, a plethora of Italians have tried their luck in Scottish football in recent years.

Rangers have welcomed seven incomers from il bel paese over the past decade, most notably Rino Gattuso, who spent the early part of his career developing under the watchful eye of first Walter Smith and then Dick Advocaat.

Advocaat's curious habit of deploying a player who would go on to beome one of the world's most lauded defensive midfielders at right-back soon had Gattuso heading for home and Salernitana.

Silverware and international recognition soon followed with AC Milan and at international level where he played a pivotal role in the Azzurri's World-Cup success last summer.

Gattuso's mentor in Govan was Lorenzo Amoruso. Injury curtailed his involvement shortly after signing for Rangers in 1997 but he returned to become a key figure at the heart of the Rangers' defence and a club captain.

He left for Blackburn Rovers in 2003 and is now back home in Florence running his own restaurant. As Ibrox turned into Little Italy, Luigi Riccio also found himself in Glasgow after making the journey over from Perugia with Gattuso.

Sadly for him, he enjoyed none of his compatriot's success, playing just twice before heading for a spell with Beveren in Belgium. Last spotted anchoring Piacenza's midfield.

Rather more successful around the same period was Sergio Porrini, a Champions League winner with Juventus. The bearded right-back was an automatic inclusion for most of his four years in Scotland although he was deemed the guilty party in the Squash-gate incident that sparked Negri's ultimate demise. Turned out for Alessandria and Padova and was still strutting his stuff at Pizzighettone in Serie C1 last season.

Paolo Vanoli arrived at Rangers with a UEFA Cup winner's medal having scored for Parma in the final against Olympique Marseille but his stay in Scotland would prove to be rather less noteworthy.

He featured sporadically at left-back in a spell best remembered for two vastly contrasting goals; a 30-yarder against Dundee and then an embarrasing own-goal that dribbled in against Dunfermline.

On his return home, he did the rounds at a few clubs and was turning out for Castelnuovo Sandra last season.

Vanoli at least made several competitive appearances for Rangers, an accolade that doesn't feature on Pippo Maniero's CV.

The striker was a deadline-day capture by Alex McLeish in August 2005 but, in four months, never made the bench, never mind the starting line-up. He was last seen playing in the Italian eighth division with Legnarese last season.

Across the city, before the summer arrival of Massimo Donati, two former Italians featured prominently in Celtic's recent history.

Paolo di Canio made up one third of the famous Three Musketeers posse that also featured Pierre van Hooijdonk and Jorge Cadete after pitching up at Parkhead in 1996.

He lasted one season, it seems longer in hindsight, and scored 15 goals before moving to Sheffield Wednesday where he added shoving over referees to a lengthy list of attributes.

Di Canio recently announced his decision to retire next summer as he winds down his career with Cisco Roma in Italy's C2 division.

Around that same time, Celtic deployed Enrico Annoni rather less frequently. One substitute appearance was greeted with the now legendary line: "Aw naw, Annoni's on an' aw".

The defender recently quit his position as scout at Juventus and can be found pontificating on Italian TV from time to time.

Tayside has welcomed its share of Italians too. Dundee pulled off a major coup when they landed the prolific former Juventus striker, Fabrizio Ravanelli.

The White Feather was not long for these parts, however, as Dundee's finances predictably imploded. Ravanelli scuttled back to his hometown team, Perugia, and is now presumably still pulling his shirt over his head as a pundit on Italian television.

Neither Patrizio Billio nor Marco de Marchi were any more successful at Dens Park. Billio became embroiled in an on-going spat with Ivano Bonetti, the former Dundee manager, and eventually left for a short spell at Aberdeen while de Marchi was similarly drummed out of Dundee after another inauspicious contribution.

City rivals, United, also briefly enjoyed an Italian influence when Daniele Chiarini made four appearances in tangerine in between two separate but similarly short spells at Partick Thistle. He was last seen at Pisa after brief stays at Martina and Arezzo.

At Hearts, there were Italian contributions from Pasquale bruno and Stefano SalvatorI. Bruno was already a well-decorated defender with Juventus and Torino when he arrived at Tynecastle where he added his muscle to the Hearts defence for two seasons before moving on to Wigan. Another whose mug now regularly features on the television screen back home.

He was joined in Gorgie by Salvatori, a combative midfielder who graced the Hearts team for three seasons between 1996 and 1999.