ON HIS bulging left bicep lies a pair of flaming eagle wings with the motto ''Born Wild'' scribed underneath. That gothic tattoo sums up succinctly the phenomenon that is Enrico Annoni.

Celtic's Italian defender is, by his own admission, different, which is probably why he has achieved hero status with the Parkhead support, even though he has only managed three league starts under Dr Jozef Venglos so far this season.

While the rest of the squad trickled out of the ground dressed casually, yet sensibly - bearing in mind the crisp nature of the festive Scottish weather - after yet another gruelling training session, Annoni sauntered through the entrance lobby like the Incredible Hulk, wrestling star Hulk Hogan and Andre Aggasi all rolled into one.

The uniform training trousers had been ripped three-quarters of the way down, the Harley Davidson bandanna serving to both keep his head warm and accentuate the perfectly-groomed pointed sideburns and goatee beard.

A vast array of gothic jewellery draped from his left ear, neck and hands, and the glazed Latin stare finished off the intimidating image, flawed only by the club drill top which had not been the victim of any slap-dash alterations.

A Hell's Angel in the Celtic colours.

The vice-like handshake did not augur well, but as a wide, pearly smile broke out it became obvious that first impressions can indeed be misleading.

''I like to have fun,'' he said, arms flailing in typical Italian fashion. ''I just wear the clothes I want to wear. I am different - I am a showman.

''In Italy I was the same - it shows my personality.

''Playing football is a job and when I go to my work I want to be happy and have fun - I don't want to go to work sad. I am very lucky to have this job.''

Annoni has been with Celtic for almost two years now, after signing for #500,000 from AS Roma, but he recalls vividly the reaction from Lisbon Lion John Clark, now the club's kit man, to his redesigning of the Celtic strip before making his debut in the 2-0 defeat of Hearts.

''When I arrived here John gave me my long strip top before my first game. I do not like long sleeves, so I got a pair of scissors and cut the arms.

''The next thing I heard was John screaming 'N-o-o-o, you can't do that - it is not possible'. Then, after that, I cut the ankles off a pair of socks to give support with another pair and he yelled: 'N-o-o-o, you're crazy'.

''However, after a while he got used to it and said: 'Yes, all right Rico, you can just cut whatever you want'.''

It stemmed from his childhood in Italy, when Annoni, the pioneer of the coloured football boot - ''Paolo (Di Canio) said he was the first to do it, but I was'' - had always ventured to stand out in a crowd, although he admitted it was a trifle difficult to attempt anything light-hearted in a country which treats football as more than simply a game.

''It's just my style,'' he began. ''When I started to play football I wanted to be different from the rest. When I was younger - when I had hair - sometimes I had long hair, sometimes I changed colour to yellow or so.

''It was more difficult to get away with in Italy. I remember I was the first player to wear coloured boots in Italy.

''People just couldn't understand it, but I explained to them that they were the same boots, did the same things - only they were a different colour.

''I remember one game in which I played badly, when I was wearing the coloured boots. The next day one of the newspapers blamed the boots for my poor performance!''

Although he ridiculed that perception, Annoni has, throughout his footballing travels, which started at Como, and took him to Torino and then AS Roma, picked up some unconventional superstitions along the way.

If his team are winning, Annoni prepares for the next match exactly the same way, wearing the same boots, which are placed in the same position on the dressing room floor, and the same sweatband, and he is convinced that this had a bearing on Celtic's title-winning exploits.

''I am superstitious. When I was young I was very, very superstitious. Now I am only superstitious sometimes.

''Last year, I was pretty bad. When I wore the white and green boots we went on a run of games without defeat which helped us to win the league. So I kept wearing them until we lost - then I threw them away.''

The arrival of the Scottish Premier League has also presented a problem.

Annoni went apoplectic when he found out that he would be squad member 17.

He explained: ''The No.17 shirt is bad luck in Italy, like No.13 is here. I spoke to Jock Brown to see if he could get me a different number, but it had already been sent in and was told that it would be no problem and not to worry about the number.

''So I said I would try it out, but I haven't been given much of a chance to do that yet.''

Last season, a variety of injuries restricted him to just 16 appearances for Celtic and the new season followed a similar path.

With Alan Stubbs, Marc Rieper, and Jackie McNamara, having had lengthy lay-offs at different times of the season, the Italian seemed to be an obvious replacement, but, more often than not, an injury or illness prevented him from staking his claim to a first-team place.

Now, with Rieper set to return after three months out, Annoni concedes that his time in Glasgow is coming to an end, and he has sent his agent, Bruno Carpeggiani, to try to find him a club in Spain or back home.

''It has been very, very frustrating for me. I had spoken to Jock at the start of the season because I wanted to leave, but then I decided to stay.

''I have been injured, but also I have not been given a chance to show my worth.

''I am 120% fit now, but I think this is my last chance. Last year, I understood when I was left out because I had a lot of injuries, and when I was fit I was given a chance by Wim.

''This year, though, I just don't understand why I am not involved. Maybe the coach does not like Enrico, but it would be good to know.

''In January the market opens up in Serie A and I have told my agent to try to fix me up with a move to another club.

''I spoke with the coach and I told him that I am not young. I would love to stay here and be given a chance, but I need to play all the time.

''At 32 I only have maybe two, or three years left as a player.

''I like it here in Scotland and my family like it here because it is an incredible place.

''I also want my daughter to learn to speak English for the future.

''When I play I am happy - it is a great job to have and I am very lucky. When I don't play for one week, two weeks, even one month, it is okay, but it's difficult for me to be out for such a long time. I am training every week - but for what?''

While the personal disappointment is deep, he puts it into proper perspective by considering the plights of his two friends, Jonas Thern and Marco Negri, who have not enjoyed the best of times in Glasgow, either.

Thern, a team-mate of Enrico at Roma, is still fighting to save his Ibrox career after undergoing a knee operation at the start of the season, while Negri has been out of football since last season after a fall-out with the Rangers hierarchy.

''Jonas is my friend. I shared a room with him when we played with Roma,'' said Annoni, shaking his head sympathetically.

''He is a nice person and it must be really hard for him. Last season he was injured and this season he has hardly played.

''Here the training is very different and I think for me and Jonas it took time for us to get used to the new set-up.

''I speak a lot with Marco, because we are very similar people.

''Sometimes people don't like outspoken players - but he is honest. It is very, very hard for him just now. He's back training with the youth team, but is waiting for a move to Spain or back home.

''Sometimes I get very sad and don't really want to play football, but then I come back to thinking how lucky I am.''

He is a nice man, is Rico, and Scottish football will not be quite the same without his unique and colourful personality . . .