Nicky Bandini Fri, January 6, 2023, 12:00 GMT 64 Gianluca Vialli did not lose his battle with cancer because for him, it was never a battle at all. His achievements as a player and coach will live on in history. Clive Brunskill/Getty Images In 2020, he told the Guardian, “I don’t want to fight cancer because it would be too big and powerful an enemy.” This seems like a journey. It’s about traveling with an unwelcome companion until, ideally, it gets bored and passes away before I do.
Vialli passed away on Friday at the age of 58, ending a journey that began in 2017 with the discovery of a pancreatic tumor. When doctors gave him the all-clear in 2018 and again in 2020, it appeared that he would outlive his fellow traveler, but the cancer returned each time.
Gianluca Vialli Gianluca Vialli, a former striker for Italy, Juventus, and Chelsea, has passed away at the age of 58. Read more Vialli once said he could have been a soldier if football hadn’t worked out. He went down a more carefree path because of his talent. In La Bella Stagione, the book he co-authored with Roberto Mancini about their Scudetto-winning 1990–91 season at Sampdoria, he wrote, “Don’t believe anyone who says football is a war.” It’s a game and a sport. And you and your friends play games.
He had the opportunity to play with Mancini, his best friend, for eight years at the Marassi. This is still the most important period in Sampdoria’s history, highlighted by the club’s one and only league title and its only continental success, the Cup Winners’ Cup victory a year earlier. In the Gothenburg final, Vialli scored both goals as they beat Anderlecht.
On and off the field, he and Mancini were I Gemelli dei Gol, or the Goal Twins. Together, they won the Coppa Italia three times and occasionally caused a little trouble by sneaking out of training camp at night with pillows hidden under the sheets so no one would suspect them. A self-deprecating Vialli recalled, “I was the sweet one who would break the ice [with the ladies],” years later. Roberto was the more attractive one.
Those friendships helped a team stay together for longer than they might have otherwise. In the summer of 1986, Vialli, then 22 years old, turned down Milan because “at a big club you are, above all, a number in service to the result.” I’m more interested in being a person right now.
Vialli joined Juventus in 1992, where he went on to win the Serie A title in addition to the Champions League and Uefa Cup. The financial realities of football could not be avoided forever. After that, he made the free transfer to Chelsea in the summer of 1996, which was made possible by the Bosman ruling that the European Court of Justice had made a year earlier.
He became a player-manager within 20 months: promoted to take Ruud Gullit’s place. Before the start of his first game in charge, a League Cup semi-final against Arsenal, Vialli gave out champagne glasses in the changing room. Overcoming a deficit from the first leg, his team won 3-1.
It’s a story about how quickly the professional game has changed. In 2023, the idea of a top coach encouraging players to consume alcohol prior to a game is implausible, just like the idea of Chelsea hiring a player-manager in the first place.
There must have been something right with Vialli. After that, Chelsea won the FA Cup in 2000 and the League Cup, Cup Winners’ Cup, and Uefa Super Cup in 1998. He is the club’s most successful manager prior to Roman Abramovich based solely on trophy count.
His accomplishments as a player and a coach will be remembered for all time by anyone who finds them. Similarly, the video archive footage of his games. He scored overhead kicks, crucial goals, cup winners, and great goals.
His effect on those who knew him is harder to record. Vialli was part of Mancini’s staff when he went to Euro 2020, where he was Italy’s head of delegation. This was a “what you make of it” job that involved a lot of administrative work, being an ambassador, and helping the rest of the staff.He felt more like a family member for Italy, there to help, give advice, but also to laugh and help ease the tension that builds up during a tournament. After the team bus misplaced him during the first game against Turkey, it became a joke to pretend to do it again for each game.At that tournament, Vialli, like Mancini, was casting out some ghosts. Together, they lost the 1992 European Cup final against Sampdoria at Wembley. In addition, they had both had disappointing experiences while playing for the Italian national team. Salvatore Schillaci replaced Vialli at the 1990 World Cup due to Vialli’s injury, and Mancini did not play at all.
By embodying those words from their own book—two friends sharing a game they love—Vialli and Mancini set a tone for players rather than allowing that history to weigh on them.
In an interview with Alessandro Cattelan for Netflix in Italy last year, Vialli said, “I’m convinced that our children follow our example more than our words,” reflecting on his relationship with his own two daughters. Now that I know I won’t die of old age, I try to set a good example because I have less time to do so.
“I try to teach them that happiness depends on how you look at life, that you shouldn’t act fake, that you should listen more and talk less, and that happiness depends on perspective.” Laugh a lot and assist others. The key to happiness is that.