Gianluca Vialli: The Chelsea trailblazer who transformed the Premier League

Quick Bit: Gianluca Vialli’s death at the age of 58 has prompted an outpouring of affection and grief. The former Italy, Sampdoria, Juventus and Chelsea striker was one of football’s best-loved contemporary figures.

Full Story:

It has been striking how many of the countless tributes to Gianluca Vialli, the former Italy striker whose death at the age of 58 was announced on Friday, have focused on his kindness and humility as a much-loved man.

Common decency says not to speak ill of the dead, but there is no obligation to speak so glowingly either. It’s immediately apparent when a special one has left us.

“I can’t tell you how good a guy he was. Forget football for a minute: he was just a gorgeous soul, a truly nice human being,” said Graeme Souness, who was visibly emotional when discussing his former Sampdoria team-mate on Sky Sports News.

“I was 31 when I went to Italy and he was fabulous to be around. He was a fun-loving guy, full of mischief, such a warm individual and a fabulous player. But I want to talk about him as a human being above all that.”

For those not as privileged as Souness and Vialli’s other colleagues on the field — run through a list of the very best across the mid-1980s and 1990s and he played alongside and enhanced a significant number of them — those human qualities revealed themselves in a fittingly gentle manner over time.

The indelible impression for football supporters in the UK during the final decade of the previous century was of someone otherworldly, an unobtainable force of nature.

MORE: Why Frank Lampard is facing the sack at Everton

Who did Gianluca Vialli play for?

In 1990, England’s run to the semifinals of the World Cup in Italy revitalised a national game that had begun to wither amid tragedy and neglect. Paul Gascoigne was the Three Lions’ breakout star in what were, at the time, the most glamorous surroundings in world football.

Serie A was the best domestic league on the planet, boasting an all-star cast of players, tactical sophistication and kits and stadiums that looked so damn good. The big hitters liked what they saw in Gascoigne — the mercurial playmaker’s off-field travails were yet to fully reveal themselves — and wanted him to join the party.

Lazio won the race to sign Gazza and free-to-air broadcaster Channel 4 picked up the rights to beam his exploits into British living rooms on sleepy Sunday afternoons. The only catch was Gascoigne’s lengthy rehabilitation from a cruciate knee ligament injury sustained during Tottenham’s 1991 FA Cup final win over Nottingham Forest, which meant he was not ready to play in Lazio’s 1992/93 opener away at Sampdoria.

Who would tune in? Wasn’t Italian football just ultra-defensive and boring anyway? Samp and Lazio promptly served up a rollicking 3-3 draw and a generation of UK fans fell in love.

Sampdoria’s recovery against a Giuseppe Signori-inspired Bianconeri was particularly impressive given the man who fired them to the title in 1990/91 had just joined Juventus for a world-record ?12.5 million.

Vialli continue to rack up trophies at Juve, having starred alongside Roberto Mancini in an era-defining Samp side. I Gemelli dei Gol — the Goal Twins – were a dynamically skilful strike partnership on the field and firm friends off it. Vialli was the top scorer when Sampdoria won what remains their only Scudetto, while he and Mancini also fuelled sensational cup exploits.

They were three-time Coppa Italia winners, lifted the 1989/90 European Cup Winners’ Cup as Vialli netted both goals in the final against Anderlecht and pushed Johan Cruyff’s Barcelona to extra time in the 1992 European Cup final.

Did Gianluca Vialli win the Champions League?

Vialli continued to collect medals at Juventus, lifting the UEFA Cup in his first season before ending the club’s nine-year wait for a Serie A title in 1994/95 — finishing the campaign with 17 league goals to end a run of dominance from AC Milan. Marcelo Lippi’s side also won the Coppa Italia that year and were only denied a treble in the UEFA Cup final by Parma over two legs, but not before Vialli scored a typically blistering goal.

Luca was the type of player you could imagine thriving in a modern game that continued to fascinate and beguile him until his death. He was comfortable operating across the forward line but worked best as a selfless No.9, bringing the likes of Mancini, Roberto Baggio, Alessandro Del Piero and Gianfranco Zola into play around him.

“I’ve been extremely lucky. As a centre-forward, I played with Mancini, Del Piero, Roberto Baggio and Gianfranco Zola,” he recalled during an appearance on Sky’s Goals on Sunday programme. “I was doing a lot for them — running for them! In return, they were passing me fantastic balls and, for me, it was easy to score playing with them.”

Those stellar names were just as lucky to have Vialli by their side, their creative artistry often sent flying into the net with beautiful brutality. Vialli specialised in bludgeoning finishes with either foot, sometimes striking the ball with such force that you imagined anyone who got in its way would join it in the goal.

Despite being a shade under six foot, he was no-one’s idea of easy work in the air. Even so, a Vialli header could leave you feeling a little short-changed, only because he’d decided against unfurling one of his muscular and magnificent bicycle kicks.

In his final game for Juventus, he skippered them to glory in the 1996 Champions League final against Ajax. No Juventus captain has lifted the big trophy since. For Vialli, it was time for a fresh challenge.

What trophies did Gianluca Vialli win at Chelsea?

During those first couple of years of Football Italia on Channel 4, it was hard to imagine such players strutting their stuff in the fledgling Premier League. Baggio, Vialli and the rest sometimes looked like implausibly gifted extra-terrestrials beamed onto British television from another planet. They didn’t belong in Coventry or Ipswich.

In the aftermath of the 1994 World Cup in the USA, England’s top division started to become more cosmopolitan. Around this time, sublime stars such as Eric Cantona, Jurgen Klinsmann and Dennis Bergkamp arrived to thrill fans. Even so, a move to England still tended to come either after careers had taken a sharp wrong turn — as was the case with Cantona — or for one last payday.

Vialli was 32 when he made his Chelsea debut so could be placed in the latter category. But a man last seen captaining a European superpower to Champions League glory stepping out in the Premier League felt like a game-changer.

Chelsea symbolised the decay of English football in the 1980s more explicitly than most, but they swiftly became a glamour club in tune with their surroundings on King’s Road in west London. Ruud Gullit was player-manager and Vialli and Zola would be part of his “sexy football” revolution.

Vialli remained a cup specialist, scoring twice in a 4-2 comeback win over Liverpool en route to glory in the 1996/97 FA Cup. He and Gullit did not always see eye-to-eye and when the Dutchman was sacked in February 1998, the Italian No.9 was appointed player-manager.

Stamford Bridge roared his name as the Blues came back from a 2-1 first-leg defeat to Arsenal in the semifinal of the League Cup to win 3-0. Vialli became the first Italian to manage in the Premier League — a competition since won by Mancini, Claudio Ranieri, Antonio Conte and Carlo Ancelotti — and then the first to win a trophy in English football when Chelsea went on to lift the League Cup. They also won the Cup Winners’ Cup that season as Vialli brought Zola off the bench to score a wonderful winner against Stuttgart.

An anecdote that did the rounds after news of Vialli’s death related to his first game as a manager against Arsenal. To set his players at ease, he gave them all a glass of champagne in the dressing room before they produced a performance to match. It was an act of customary warmth to set his friends and colleagues at ease that placed Vialli perfectly: the supreme talent brought in to drag an English club into the modern era, while putting his own classy spin on the boozy boys-will-be-boys japes of the time.

How many goals did Gianluca Vialli score for Italy?

Vialli represented Italy at two World Cups in 1986 and 1990. He went into his home tournament carrying an injury and lost his place in the team to the Azzurri’s surprise hero Toto Schillaci.

It left him disgruntled on the bench, cutting a similarly forlorn figure to Mancini. In 1992, a fallout with head coach Arrigo Sacchi brought a premature end to his international career after 59 caps and 16 goals.

Their combined struggles in national colours added extra poignancy when Vialli joined Mancini’s backroom staff for Italy’s march to glory at Euro 2020.

The two old teammates embraced in tears on the Wembley turf, the scene of Sampdoria’s heartbreak against Barcelona. A lot of demons were exorcised that day and the sense of completing a journey carried even more emotional weight given Vialli’s ordeal in the years prior.

Gianluca Vialli cancer: What illness did the Chelsea legend have?

Vialli was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2017 but said in November 2018 that he was given the all-clear.

The illness returned in March 2019 before he was declared cancer free once more that December.

“The second time was definitely tougher because it’s the cumulative effect,” he told The Guardian in 2020. “I wasn’t so strong and there was some despair. You’re thinking: ‘Oh my God, this guy is back’.”

Vialli’s improved health allowed him to take on his role as an adored member of Mancini’s coaching setup with the national side.

He was re-diagnosed in 2021 and last month it was announced he would step down from his role with the Azzurri.

“Gianluca was a splendid person and he leaves a void that cannot be filled,” said Italian Football Federation (FIGC) president Gabriele Gravina. “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.”

MORE: Why Lionel Messi is The Sporting News Athlete of the Year

Gianluca Vialli wife and family

Vialli is survived by his wife Cathryn White-Cooper and two daughters.

The couple met during his time and Chelsea and married in 2003. Vialli remained a resident in London after his career, with the family calling England’s capital city home.

“I’m convinced that our children follow our example more than our words,” Vialli said in an interview with Netflix in Italy last year. “I have less time to be that example, now that I know I won’t die of old age, so I try to be a positive example.

“I try to teach them that happiness depends on the perspective with which you look on life, that you shouldn’t put on airs, that you should listen more and speak less. Laugh often, help others. That’s the secret of happiness.”

Happiness was also watching Gianluca Vialli play football and score goals, even if that much was never a secret. His legacy as a player and a person will be long celebrated.

Originally found on Sporting News Read More

Similar Posts