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Gianluca Vialli, Italy striker and former Chelsea manager, dies aged 58

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Chelsea manager Gianluca Vialli celebrates with the trophy after winning the Coca-Cola Football League Cup Final between Chelsea and Middlesbrough at Wembley Stadium - Paul Popper/Getty Images

Gianluca Vialli, the former Chelsea manager, has died at the age of 58. Announcing his death, the Italian Football Federation described him as “a great man, a great striker and a highly-regarded manager”.

Chelsea manager Gianluca Vialli celebrates with the trophy after winning the Coca-Cola Football League Cup Final between Chelsea and Middlesbrough at Wembley Stadium – Paul Popper/Getty Images© Paul Popper/Getty Images

Vialli had pancreatic cancer again diagnosed in 2021 after previously being treated for the illness for three years until 2020 and, although he was present for Italy’s 1-0 Nations League win against England, the physical toll of the disease was easily sensed.

The football world had begun to fear the worst when news emerged shortly before Christmas that Vialli’s 87-year-old mother, Maria Teresa, had made the journey from Italy to London to be at her son’s hospital bedside.

On Friday morning the Italian Football Federation said: “Gianluca always fought head-on, with dignity and with the whole blue family to give him strength at a time of silent but enormous suffering. Italian football is not only mourning the head of the delegation of the national team but a great man, who even before that had been a great striker and a highly-regarded manager.”

“Vialli’s death leaves an unfillable void in the whole family of Italian football. To remember him, the Federation has arranged a minute’s silence to be observed before all the matches scheduled for next weekend.”

Gabriele Gravina, the head of the Italian Federation, added: “I hoped until the end that he would be able to perform another miracle, yet I am comforted by the certainty that what he did for Italian football and the blue shirt will never be forgotten.”

Tributes were paid quickly by Sampdoria and Juventus, the clubs for which Vialli made his name; Chelsea, where he played and managed; and Watford, where he was also briefly in charge.

Remembering the Vialli-Mancini strikeforce

Vialli was a genuine footballing trailblazer, both as a player and a manager.

Having started his career at Cremonese, the local club who he helped to lift into Serie B, Vialli moved to Sampdoria where, alongside Roberto Mancini, he helped inspire the greatest period in their history.

Vialli and Mancini became known as ‘I Gemelli del Gol’ [the goal twins] and formed a devastating attacking partnership which helped Sampdoria to win a hat-trick of Italian Cups, the European Cup Winners’ Cup and, most historically of all, their first and only Serie A title, in 1991.

Sampdoria striker Gianluca Vialli (l) rides the challenge of Paolo Pochesci of Ascoli (r) during a match circa 1984 in Genoa, Italy - Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Sampdoria striker Gianluca Vialli (l) rides the challenge of Paolo Pochesci of Ascoli (r) during a match circa 1984 in Genoa, Italy – Hulton Archive/Getty Images© Provided by The Telegraph

A complete two-footed forward with pace, touch, calmness in front of goal and an ability to play out wide or through the middle, Vialli was Serie A’s top goalscorer during that Championship-winning year. He also scored twice when Sampdoria beat Anderlecht in the final of the European Cup Winners’ Cup and, as the old videos confirm, would celebrate many of his goals with a backflip.

Related video: FILE: Renewed concerns over health of former Italy striker Gianluca Vialli (SNTV)

 

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FILE: Renewed concerns over health of former Italy striker Gianluca Vialli

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Vialli and Mancini were, in many respects, chalk and cheese. With the slightly wild curly hair, Vialli was more of a flamboyant free spirit whereas Mancini – with that immaculate combed parting even as a player – was a man of routine and meticulous planning.

And yet they clicked, both on and off the pitch.

ROBERTO MANCINI E GIANLUCA VIALLI NELLA SAMPDORIA FOTO OMEG - Omega/Null

ROBERTO MANCINI E GIANLUCA VIALLI NELLA SAMPDORIA FOTO OMEG – Omega/Null© Provided by The Telegraph

“We liked each other as human beings – we were different but got on extremely well and were complementary,” explained Vialli. “He could be the centre-forward. I could drop back. When things were not going well, we could do the opposite. We were two strikers who did not care whether the other got three goals and they got nothing. We had this affinity – no jealousy. We just wanted the team to win.”

This era in Sampdoria’s history would peak at the final of the 1992 European Cup, where they only lost in extra-time against Johan Cruyff’s Barcelona ‘dream team’.

Vialli then moved to Juventus and Chelsea where further major trophies would follow, including another Serie A title, the Uefa Cup, an FA Cup, two more European Cup Winners’ Cups, the League Cup and, in 1996, the Champions League.

Vialli was at Juventus by then and, having already agreed to join Chelsea that summer, won club football’s ultimate prize, in his final match in Italy. To this day, Vialli remains the last Juventus captain to lift the European Cup and he always rated it as the greatest moment in his career. “An impossible feeling to forget – I still have dreams about that moment,” he said.

Vialli was also capped more than 50 times alongside some of the greats of Italian football – notably Roberto Baggio, Gianfranco Zola and Alessandro del Piero – and was part of the squad that beat England into third place at the 1990 World Cup.

Gianluca Vialli of Chelsea traps the ball during the Carling Premiership match against Manchester United at Old Trafford, Manchester. - Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Gianluca Vialli of Chelsea traps the ball during the Carling Premiership match against Manchester United at Old Trafford, Manchester. – Clive Brunskill/Getty Images© Provided by The Telegraph

A popular Chelsea manager

A career in coaching or management always looked likely and he would make an extraordinary initial impact at Chelsea after owner Ken Bates made him the first Italian ever to manage in the Premier League. Vialli was just 33 and had doubts about whether he should accept the role but, three months after succeeding Ruud Gullit, he had led the club to victory in both the League Cup and European Cup Winners’ Cup.

Chelsea then won the European Super Cup against Real Madrid and finished third in the Premier League which, at the time, was the club’s highest league finish since 1970.

The 1998-9 season was also notable for Vialli giving a debut at centre-back to John Terry, who would go on to become the club’s most successful captain. It was something Terry never forgot and he sent regular messages to Vialli over recent months to let him know that his former players were thinking of him and sending their “love, strength and prayers”.

Chelsea won their fourth trophy in less than three seasons under Vialli with the 2000 FA Cup in the last game at the old Wembley Stadium but significant tensions emerged that summer with senior players over his squad rotation. A slow start to the 2000-2001 season was greeted with decisive action by Bates and Vialli was sacked after one win, one loss and three draws from Chelsea’s opening five league games.

Chelsea manager Gianluca Vialli (left) and captain Dennis Wise celebrate with the trophy after the FA Charity Shield between Chelsea and Manchester United at Wembley Stadiu - Paul Popper/Getty Images

Chelsea manager Gianluca Vialli (left) and captain Dennis Wise celebrate with the trophy after the FA Charity Shield between Chelsea and Manchester United at Wembley Stadiu – Paul Popper/Getty Images© Provided by The Telegraph

He returned to management at Watford the following year but this lasted just one unsatisfactory season during which the club finished only 14th in League One.

At the age of just 37, Vialli’s four-season managerial career was over but he would remain living in London and, in 2003, he married Cathryn White-Cooper with whom he has two daughters, Olivia and Sofia.

Return to Italy

Regular punditry work would follow with Sky Italia – “I love it, it’s stress free, I’ve got time for football and my family,” he said – and there was no burning desire to get back into the ruthless and all-consuming world of football management.

“I’ve kicked the addiction,” Vialli would say, until the mouth-watering chance arose in 2019 to again team up with Mancini following his friend’s appointment as Italy manager. The two old Sampdoria strike partners proved just as effective together in the dugout and duly led Italy to their unexpected European Championships triumph against England at Wembley last summer.

Gianluca Vialli, Delegation Chief of Italy and Roberto Mancini, Head Coach of Italy pose with The Henri Delaunay Trophy during an Italy Portrait Session following their side's victory in the UEFA Euro 2020 Championship Final between Italy and England - MIchael Regan/Getty Images

Gianluca Vialli, Delegation Chief of Italy and Roberto Mancini, Head Coach of Italy pose with The Henri Delaunay Trophy during an Italy Portrait Session following their side’s victory in the UEFA Euro 2020 Championship Final between Italy and England – MIchael Regan/Getty Images© Provided by The Telegraph

Roberto Mancini (R), Head Coach of Italy celebrates with Gianluca Vialli, Team coordinator of Italy after their side's second goal during the UEFA Euro 2020 Championship Round of 16 match between Italy and Austria - - Alex Morton/Getty Images

Roberto Mancini (R), Head Coach of Italy celebrates with Gianluca Vialli, Team coordinator of Italy after their side’s second goal during the UEFA Euro 2020 Championship Round of 16 match between Italy and Austria – – Alex Morton/Getty Images© Provided by The Telegraph

Vialli turned his back and did not watch a single penalty during the final shoot-out but was in tears as he hugged Mancini after Italy’s victory was complete.

When Vialli announced that he would be stepping down from his position as head of the Italian team delegation, he said that he would be doing so with a “hug” in order “to be able to face new adventures as soon as possible and share them with all of you”.

Describing his first experience of cancer between 2017 and 2020, Vialli admitted to feeling scared and, despite trying to keep laughing, said that there were days when he would seek solitude to protect loved ones from his own sadness.

“I am not having a battle with cancer because I don’t think I would be able to win it – he is a much stronger opponent than me,” he said. Cancer is an unwanted travel companion. He got on the train with me and I have to go ahead, travel with my head down, never giving up, hoping that one day this unwanted guest will get tired and let me live peacefully for many more years because there are still many things I want to do.”

Heartbreakingly, that wish would not come to pass. But Gianluca Vialli’s influence on European football most certainly will endure.

Vialli tributessource:Story by Jeremy Wilson ,The Telegraph
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