9 July 2021

Gianluca Vialli - footballer and coach

Striker who managed Chelsea has faced personal battle

Gianluca Vialli is currently working with the Italian national team
Gianluca Vialli is currently working
with the Italian national team
The footballer Gianluca Vialli, who enjoyed success as a player in Italy and England and led Chelsea to five trophies as manager of the London club, was born on this day in 1964 in Cremona in Lombardy.

After beginning his professional career with his local team, Cremonese, Vialli spent eight seasons with Sampdoria of Genoa, helping a team that had seldom previously finished higher than mid-table in Serie A enjoy their most successful era, winning the Coppa Italia three times, the European Cup-Winners’ Cup and an historic first Serie A title in 1990-91.

He then spent four years with Juventus, winning another Scudetto in 1994-95 and becoming a Champions League winner the following season.

He signed for Chelsea in 1996 as one of the first in a wave of top Italian players arriving in the Premier League in the second half of that decade, becoming player-manager in 1998 after the man who signed him, Ruud Gullit, was sacked. 

In the blue of Chelsea, Vialli won medals in the FA Cup as a player, the Football League Cup, the Cup-Winners’ Cup and the UEFA Super Cup as player-manager, before guiding the team to another FA Cup success as manager, after retiring as a player at the end of the 1998-99 season.

After leaving Stamford Bridge, Vialli remained in London, dropping out of the Premier League to take charge of second-tier club Watford but lasted only a season before being sacked and has not worked in management since.

Vialli was a prolific goalscorer in the  colours of Sampdoria
Vialli was a prolific goalscorer in the 
colours of Sampdoria 
Vialli, who also made 59 appearances and scored 16 goals for the Italian national team, was for many years a pundit on the Sky Italia satellite TV channel and has written two books. He has been a member of current Azzurri head coach Roberto Mancini’s pitch-side technical staff during the delayed 2020 European championships, having emerged successfully from a two-and-a-half year battle with pancreatic cancer.

Vialli’s upbringing was very different from most footballers. The youngest of five children, he enjoyed the trappings of his entrepreneur father’s wealth, being brought up in the historic 60-room Castello di Belgioioso, in the small town of the same name set in extensive gardens a little under 60km (37 miles) west of Cremona on the way to Pavia.  Vialli senior was the millionaire owner of a construction company.

He was as keen on football as any young child and played endless games with his sister and three brothers in a large courtyard at the back of the castle. His first formal steps towards a football career came after he had entered the Cristo Re oratory, an educational institution in Cremona, which had a football team and links to others, including Pizzighettone, a regional team from Cremona province. After a few games there, his talent as a striker was quickly picked up on the Cremonese radar and made his senior debut at the age of 16.

Fired by Vialli’s goals, Cremonese jumped from Serie C to Serie A in four seasons. Vialli enjoyed his time there and was often seen around the city, zipping about on his Vespa scooter with the girlfriend from childhood, Giovanna, on the back.  He would sometimes hang out with the club’s fans at the Bar Rio in the centre of Cremona.

Vialli played alongside fellow striker Fabrizio Ravanelli (left) during his four years with Juventus
Vialli played alongside fellow striker Fabrizio
Ravanelli (left) during his four years with Juventus
But bigger things beckoned. In 1984, at the age of 20, Vialli signed for Sampdoria, making the acquaintance for the first time of his new teammate, Roberto Mancini.  The coach, Vujadin Boskov, treated him like a son and gave him the confidence to form a deadly partnership with Mancini. In 1991, Vialli was top scorer with 19 goals and helped the club to win both the Scudetto and the Italian Super Cup.

In June 1992, with Sampdoria wishing they could keep him but also needing a cash influx, Vialli moved to Juventus for a world record fee, the equivalent of £12.5 million. He made a slow start, his first two seasons disrupted by injuries, but under coach Marcello Lippi he won the domestic league and cup double and the UEFA Cup and both main domestic trophies as well as the Uefa Cup and before making his final appearance in the 1996 Champions League final in Rome, when a Juventus side captained by him beat Ajax of Holland. 

Vialli’s international career ended in 1992, essentially because of his poor relationship with Arrigo Sacchi, the manager who succeeded Azeglio Vicini after the 1990 World Cup and took Italy to the final in USA ‘94. 

After moving to Chelsea, he settled in London, buying a house in Belgravia, marrying an English interior designer, Cathryn White-Cooper, with whom he has two daughters, and later moving to Hampstead.  A smoker even in his playing days, Vialli was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2017. He announced in April 2020 that he had been given the all-clear.

Vialli collaborated with his friend, football journalist Gabriele Marcotti, in writing The Italian Job: A Journey to the Heart of Two Great Footballing Cultures, which discusses the differences between English and Italian football. He donated the proceeds of the book to a charitable foundation he founded together with player-turned-politician Massimo Mauro to raise funds for research into cancer and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), which is also known as motor neurone disease.

Mancini, who became Italy’s head coach in 2018 after their failure to qualify for the World Cup finals in Russia, turned to Vialli to be part of his backroom team in 2019, giving him the title of delegation chief, a position unfilled since Luigi Riva's retirement in 2013.

UPDATE: Italy won the final of the delayed Euro 2020 championships two days after this article was originally published, defeating host nation England on penalties at Wembley. Vialli shared the glory with Mancini, his close friend since they played together at Sampdoria.

Sadly, Vialli's cancer returned late in 2021. The disease was kept under control initially but his condition deteriorated in December 2022, causing him to be readmitted to hospital in London. He died on 6 January, 2023, aged just 58.

Vialli grew up in the ancient Castello di Belgioioso between Cremona and Pavia
Vialli grew up in the ancient Castello di
Belgioioso between Cremona and Pavia
Travel tip:

It is thought the Castello di Belgioioso was founded by Galeazzo II Visconti in the second half of the 14th century as part of an extensive area owned by the family in the territory where the village of Belgioioso later arose. In the 18th century the castle belonged to Don Antonio Barbiano, the first prince of Belgioioso, who was responsible for the many improvements to the complex.Lombard nobility often met there to celebrate lavish receptions.  Today the castle is home to exhibitions, cultural events, exhibitions and fairs, as well as becoming a popular venue for weddings.

The fishing village and resort of Bogliasco is close to where Vialli lived in his time at Sampdoria
The fishing village and resort of Bogliasco is close
to where Vialli lived in his time at Sampdoria

Travel tip: 

During his time at Sampdoria, lived close to the Ligurian resort of Bogliasco, situated just 11km (7 miles) east of Genoa in an area known as the Golfo Paradiso. Bogliasco is not so well known as the beautiful Camogli or exclusive Portofino further down the coast, yet is an attractive port village with characteristic pastel-coloured houses lining a sweep of sandy beach. Bogliasco has many good restaurants, is accessible by train along the railway line that hugs the coast and has three important art collections in the Frugone, Wolfsoniana and Galleria d'Arte Moderna.

Also on this day:

1879: The birth of violinist and composer Ottorino Respighi

1897: The of former NATO Secretary-General Manlio Brosio

1950: The birth of tennis champion Adriano Panatta


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