Football: Italian great Gianluca Vialli dies, aged 58

Football coaches pay tribute to former striker and coach Gianluca Vialli. AP

Gianluca Vialli, the former Italian striker who helped Sampdoria and Juventus win Serie A and European trophies before becoming player-manager at Chelsea, has died. He was 58.

The Italian football federation confirmed Vialli’s death late on Friday.

Vialli announced in 2018 that he had overcome a year-long battle with pancreatic cancer, but then said in December 2021 that the disease had returned.

With his condition worsening, Vialli announced in mid-December that he was temporarily stepping down from his role as the delegation chief for Italy’s national team.

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Gianluca Vialli celebrates winning the Champions League with Juventus in 1996. Photo / Getty
Gianluca Vialli celebrates winning the Champions League with Juventus in 1996. Photo / Getty

Federation president Gabriele Gravina said he was “deeply saddened” and noted that Vialli’s sporting success was matched by his “extraordinary human qualities.”

“Gianluca was a splendid person and he leaves a void that cannot be filled,” Gravina 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.”

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Vialli was appointed delegation chief under Azzurri head coach Roberto Mancini, his longtime friend and former teammate.

The pair were known as the “gemelli del gol,” or “goal twins,” when they played together at Sampdoria, leading the Genoa club to its only Serie A title in 1991 and its only European title in 1990 with the Cup Winners’ Cup — plus four Italian Cup trophies.

Vialli and Mancini also helped Sampdoria reach the 1992 European Cup final, which it lost to Barcelona at Wembley Stadium.

Sampdoria said in a statement: “We won’t forget your 141 goals, your overhead kicks, your cashmere shirts, your earring, your platinum blonde hair, your Ultras bomber jacket. You gave us so much, we gave you so much: yes, it was love, reciprocal, infinite. A love that will not die today with you.”

As delegation chief, Vialli reunited with Mancini to help Italy win the European Championship by beating England in a penalty shootout at Wembley in 2021.

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Gianluca Vialli on the sidelines as part of Italy's management team at Euro 2020. Photo / Photosport
Gianluca Vialli on the sidelines as part of Italy’s management team at Euro 2020. Photo / Photosport

“We have a relationship that goes way beyond friendship,” Mancini said during the Euros. “He’s like a true brother to me.”

Vialli won another Serie A title at Juventus and also raised the Champions League and UEFA Cup trophies with the Bianconeri.

“Such an intense sense of loss,” Juventus said in a statement. “We have always been with you, Gianluca. Ever since you arrived in 1992, when it was love at first sight…we loved everything about you, absolutely everything — your smile, your being a star and leader at the same time, on the pitch and in the dressing room, your adorable swashbuckling ways, your culture, your class, which you showed until the last day in the black and white stripes.”

Vialli played for Italy from 1985-1992, making 59 appearances and scoring 16 goals.

He ended his playing career while also managing Chelsea, leading the London club to FA Cup, League Cup and Cup Winners’ Cup titles. He continued to live in London after moving on from Chelsea into TV commentary and other ventures.

“Our thoughts are with Luca’s wife Cathryn, his daughters Sofia and Olivia, and the rest of his family and his friends at this terribly sad time,” Chelsea said in a statement.

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Chelsea chairman Todd Boehly and co-controlling owner Behdad Eghbali added, “Gianluca’s legend will live on at Stamford Bridge.”

“His impact as a player, a coach and most importantly as a person, will be forever written across our club’s history.”

Tributes flow for ‘a gorgeous soul’

Several of Vialli’s former teammates and managers have led tributes to the former Italy striker.

Gianfranco Zola, who played both alongside Vialli and under him as manager at Chelsea said: “Together we won many matches and shared some of the best moments of our lives.

“For the love of our ball we have often clashed. With no quarter, but always with the utmost respect. Because, in the end, we were always ourselves: two Italian boys and a ball.”

Former Chelsea manager Ruud Gullit posted an image on Instagram of himself with Vialli on the day he signed for Chelsea in 1996 with the caption: “RIP Gianluca Vialli. We will miss you.”

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Writing on Twitter, former England striker Gary Lineker said: “Deeply, deeply saddened to hear that Gianluca Vialli has left us. One of the loveliest people you could possibly meet. A truly magnificent footballer who will be hugely missed. RIP Luca.”

Former Chelsea captain John Terry tweeted: “Heartbroken. RIP Luca. A proper legend and a great man. I will forever be grateful for you giving me my debut.”

Former England captain Alan Shearer tweeted: “RIP Gianluca Vialli. What a lovely lovely man and a wonderful player he was.”

Ex-England striker Peter Crouch wrote on Twitter: “I’m genuinely gutted about this. I had Sampdoria home and away shirts because of him. I tried to replicate his volleys in the park and such a lovely man when I met him. “Rip”

Former Scotland defender Graeme Souness, who played alongside Vialli at Sampdoria, told Sky Sports UK: “I can’t tell you how good a guy he was. Forget football, he was just a gorgeous soul. He was just a truly nice human being.

“He was just fabulous to be around. He was such a fun-loving guy, full of mischief, wonderful footballer and a warm human being.

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“People will say things about his magnificent football ability, and correctly so, but above all that what a human being. My condolences go to his family – the kids were blessed to have a dad like that, his wife was blessed to be married to a man like that.”

Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti, who played alongside Vialli with Italy, tweeted in Italian: “Ciao amico mio” – thank you my friend.

Alessandro del Piero, a Champions League winner alongside Vialli with Juventus posted: “Our captain. My captain. Forever.”

Tottenham assistant Cristian Stellini said manager and fellow Italian Antonio Conte was “upset and sad” following the news, adding Vialli was an “important person” who “opened the door for Italian managers” in the Premier League.

“For us he was a great player, but first of all he was a great man. He taught us a lot of things, also not only when he played but when he spoke with everyone,” Stellini said.

He added: “Now we have to say thanks to Vialli for opening the door and letting us understand how important football is in Europe to open doors and create, because also Italian managers came into the Premier League and improved it so we did it together. It is a great thing.”

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