Gianluca Vialli: Former Chelsea, Juventus, Sampdoria and Italy striker dies aged 58

Gianluca Vialli: Former Chelsea, Juventus, Sampdoria and Italy striker dies aged 58

Gianluca Vialli: Former Chelsea, Juventus, Sampdoria and Italy striker dies aged 58

Former Chelsea striker and manager Gianluca Vialli, who played 59 times for Italy, has died at the age 58.

He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2017 but said in April 2020 that he had been given the all-clear.

Vialli was re-diagnosed in 2021 and in December 2022 left a role with Italy’s national team to focus on his health.

“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.”

The FIGC confirmed that a minute’s silence in memory of Vialli will be held before all Italian matches this weekend.

Chelsea player-manager Gianluca Vialli lifts the European Cup Winners' Cup after the 1998 final against Parma
Gianluca Vialli was Chelsea’s player-manager when they won the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1998

Vialli made his Italy debut in 1985, a year after joining Sampdoria where he would win the Serie A title and European Cup Winners’ Cup during eight seasons with the club.

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.”

Vialli helped Sampdoria reach the 1992 European Cup final but after losing to Barcelona, he moved to Juventus for a then world record fee of £12m. Vialli spent four seasons with Juve, winning the Champions League, Uefa Cup and Serie A titles.

A Juve statement said: “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 joined Chelsea on a free transfer in 1996 and became player-manager in 1998 – the first Italian to manage a Premier League side, taking over from the sacked Ruud Gullit late in the season – and went on to lead the Blues to victory in the League Cup, Uefa Cup Winners’ Cup and Uefa Super Cup.

He also guided Chelsea to victory in the 2000 FA Cup final and Charity Shield but was sacked early in the following season after a poor start.

A Blues statement said: “A brilliant striker, a trophy-winning manager and a wonderful man, Luca’s place in the pantheon of Chelsea greats is assured. He will be deeply missed.”

Vialli subsequently spent the 2001-02 season as manager of Watford, then in the second tier, but was dismissed after the Hornets finished 14th.

In October 2019 he was appointed to Italy’s backroom staff by manager and former Sampdoria team-mate Roberto Mancini. He helped the Azzurri win Euro 2020 with victory over England at Wembley in July 2021.

A FIGC statement said: “That photo on the Wembley lawn, that hug with coach Roberto Mancini after Federico Chiesa’s goal against Austria in the round of 16 of the 2021 European Championship, will be one of the images of Gianluca Vialli that we will carry in our hearts forever.”

‘A gorgeous soul’ – Vialli tributes

A number of Vialli’s former team-mates and managers have led the tributes to the former Italy striker.

Former Blues manager 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.”

Former Scotland defender Graeme Souness, who played alongside Vialli at Sampdoria, told Sky Sports: “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.

“People will say things about his magnificent football ability, and correctly so, but above all that what a human being. My condolence 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.”

Gianfranco Zola, who both played 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.”

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.”

Writing on Twitter, BBC Match of the Day presenter 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.”

And 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”

The Chelsea Supporters’ Trust described Vialli as a “foundational pillar” upon which the club built a new trophy-filled era.

A statement read: “He was loved by everyone at our football club. Thank you, Gianluca. We will miss you.”

League Managers’ Association chief executive Richard Bevan described Vialli as “one of the kindest and most charismatic men we have ever met in the world of sport”.

Aleksander Ceferin, president of European football’s governing body Uefa, added: “All members of the football family will feel real pain and a sense of profound dismay.

“Gianluca was more than a champion; he was kind, measured, respectful and above all courageous, in life even more than on the pitch, as he has taught us in recent years through his dignified fight against his illness.

“We will always remember his radiance at the many trophies that he won, right up to the final image when he embraced his friend Roberto Mancini in the middle of the pitch at Wembley – a moment of joyful emotion at the most beautiful and brilliant of all triumphs. He will be greatly missed.”

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