Italian football great Gianluca Vialli has died aged 58 after what he described as his ‘trip’ with an ‘undesirable travel companion’ – pancreatic cancer.
Vialli announced in December that he was stepping down from his role with the Italian national federation for health reasons after consulting his oncologists.
Vialli had publicly battled cancer for years. He first announced he had received treatment in 2018 but said he was doing “very well” in an interview with an Italian newspaper. Another bout with the disease soon followed in 2019, before his former side Chelsea announced he had been given the green light in 2020. Last year, the former footballer announced that the disease had returned.
Vialli played for Italian clubs Sampdoria and Juventus and English Premier League side Chelsea and earned 59 caps for Italy. He was part of the Italy team that finished third in the 1990 World Cup.
After brief stints in charge of Chelsea and Watford, Vialli was part of the Italian national team’s backroom squad, alongside his former Sampdoria team-mate Roberto Mancini, and won Euro 2020 together. .
After the final in which Italy beat England on penalties, Italian defender Alessandro Florenzi paid tribute to Vialli.
“Everyone should know this. We have among us an example that teaches us to live, at all times, in any situation,” Florenzi said, per ESPN.
“And I’m talking about Gianluca Vialli, for us he is special. Without him, and without Mancini and the other coaches, this victory would mean nothing. He is a living example. I know he’s going to get mad, but I just had to say it.
After starting his club career at Cremonese in 1980 in Italy’s lower leagues, Vialli got his big break in 1984 when he joined Sampdoria.
Along with Mancini – they earned the nickname ‘I Gemelli del Gol’ or ‘the goal twins’ – the two strikers ushered in the most successful period in the club’s history.
Vialli said in a 2019 interview on Sky Sports that the couple’s relationship worked so well on the pitch because they “loved each other as human beings”.
“We were different, but we got on extremely well,” Vialli told Sky Sports, “which helps a lot I think.
“And then on the pitch, we were very complementary… when you have two strikers who don’t care that the other scores three and you don’t score any, it’s fantastic because the only thing we wanted it was for the team to win.
Vialli finished top scorer for the Sampdoria side that won their first-ever Serie A title in 1991, also winning the Italian Cup three times and finishing second in the European Cup in 1992 away to Barcelona.
Vialli then joined Italian giants Juventus in 1992 for what was then a world record £12 million ($14.57 million).
During his four seasons with the Turin club, Vialli enjoyed more success, winning the Serie A title again, as well as the Champions League and UEFA Cup.
He still remains the last Juventus captain to lift the Champions League trophy, which he says means a lot to him personally.
“For me it’s very important to be the last Juventus captain to win the Champions League because all the fans still remember it, I still remember it and they see me as the last captain. of a very successful Italian team in Europe,” Vialli told Sky Sports in 2015 ahead of the Champions League final between Juventus and Barcelona.
“On the one hand, I want Juventus to win because I have so many friends there. But on the other hand, it would be boring to see someone take my place.
“That said, having my photo lifting the cup next to Gaetano Scirea – a legendary Juventus defender, probably one of the best Italian defenders of all time – and Gianluigi Buffon will be like having your painting hanging next to it. of a Picasso and a Van Gogh.
Vialli left for Chelsea in 1996, winning the FA Cup in his first season in England before being named player-manager the following season.
Vialli retired from professional football in 1999 to focus on his role as a full-time manager. As a manager at Chelsea he won the FA Cup and League Cup before being fired in 2000.
A brief stint as Watford manager followed before spending many years as a football pundit and analyst.
In 2018, Vialli revealed he was doing “fine” after a year-long battle with pancreatic cancer.
Following his initial cancer diagnosis, Vialli said he felt a sense of “shame” over the disease, adding that he would wear a sweater under his shirt so no one would notice his changing physique.
He called cancer an “undesirable traveling companion” in his book “Goals: Inspirational Stories to Help Tackle Life’s Challenges.” “I don’t see this as a battle,” he wrote.
“I am not a warrior. I’m not fighting cancer: it’s too strong an enemy and I wouldn’t stand a chance. I am a man who is on a journey and cancer has joined me on this journey… my goal is to keep walking, moving until he has had enough and leaves me alone.
In 2020, Vialli was given the green light after a 17-month battle with pancreatic cancer, according to an announcement from his former side Chelsea.
At the time, Vialli spoke about the struggles he had been through.
“Reclaiming my health is seeing myself in the mirror again, seeing my hair grow, not having to draw my eyebrows in with a pencil,” he said. “It may seem strange at this time (of the pandemic), compared to many others, I feel very lucky.”
In 2021, he said he was battling pancreatic cancer again after his return, stepping down from his role with the Italian national federation in December 2022 on the advice of medical experts.