Cancer poaches former Chelsea and Italy goal machine Gianluca Vialli days after claiming Pele

Cancer poaches former Chelsea and Italy goal machine Gianluca Vialli days after claiming Pele


Gianluca Vialli, the former Italy, Chelsea and Juventus striker, has died at the age of 58. Vialli, whose death comes just weeks after Sinisa Mihajlovic and Brazilian legend Pele, passed away last night surrounded by his family following a five-year cancer battle.

“We thank the many who have supported him over the years with their affection. The memory of him and his example will live forever in our hearts,” his family wrote in a statement.

Speaking on December 14, announcing he was leaving his role with the Italy team, Vialli said:

“At the end of a long and difficult ‘negotiation’ with my wonderful team of oncologists I have decided to suspend, I hope temporarily, my present and future professional commitments. The goal is to use all the psycho-physical energies to help my body overcome this phase of the disease, so that I will be able as soon as possible to face new adventures and share them with all of you.”

He represented Italy in the 1986 and 1990 World Cups, won the Champions League with Juventus in 1996 and gained popularity in England during a short spell at Stamford Bridge. Vialli would serve as Chelsea’s player-manager and then manager, leading them to the European Cup Winners’ Cup and the League Cup in 1998, plus the FA Cup in 2000.

Following the news, Chelsea tweeted in tribute, “You’ll be missed by so many. A legend to us and to all of football. Rest in peace, Gianluca Vialli.”

Chelsea chairman Todd Boehly and co-controlling owner Behdad Eghbali then added: “This is truly an awful day for Chelsea Football Club. 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. We send our heartfelt and deepest condolences to his family and friends.”

Outside Stamford Bridge, fans began laying down flowers to pay their respects below a portrait of their former player and coach.

Meanwhile, at Chelsea women’s training, the team observed a minutes’ silence before undergoing their session in Spain on Friday.

His final role in football came with the Italy national team and he played a role in guiding them to win the 2020 European Championships in England – with Italian football now left in mourning.

In her own tribute, Italy Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni wrote. “We won’t forget your goals, your legendary bicycle kicks, the joy and emotion you gave the whole nation in that embrace with Mancini after the European Championship victory. But we will not forget above all the man. To God Gianluca Vialli, the Lion King on the pitch and in life.”

On December 14, he had to step away from the role due to the aggressive return of cancer. In his final public statement, he said he hoped his absence from the national team was ‘temporary’.

His death follows a battle with pancreatic cancer, with his condition worsening in the week leading up to Christmas and family rushing to his bedside in a London hospital. Sampdoria fans also showed their support until the end as they hung a supportive banner outside the London hospital where he was being treated.

“I am deeply saddened,” said Italian Football Federation 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. Gianluca was a splendid person and he leaves a void that cannot be filled, in the national team and in all those who have appreciated his extraordinary human qualities.”

Vialli was diagnosed with the illness for a second time in 2021, having been given the all-clear in April 2020 following a 17-month struggle. Last year a candid Vialli opened up on how ‘fragile’ he was and how he never believed he would win any battle with cancer.

“I was a player and a strong man but also a fragile one and I think someone who might recognise himself. I’m here with my flaws, fears and desire to do something important,” Vialli said.

“I’m not having a battle with cancer because I don’t think I’d be able to win it, it’s a much stronger opponent to me. Cancer is an unwanted travel companion, but I can’t help it. He got on the train with me and I have to go on, travel with my head down, never giving up, hoping that one day this unwanted guest will get tired and let me live peacefully for many more years because there are still many things I want to do.”

He was working in Roberto Mancini’s coaching staff during Italy’s Euro 2020 triumph last year but recently stepped down to concentrate on his latest cancer fight.

Born in the city of Cremona in Lombardy, Vialli began his playing career at local club Cremonese, helping them win promotion to Serie B, the Italian second division. His goal-scoring soon attracted the attention of Sampdoria, where his prolific strike partnership with Mancini – they were nicknamed ‘The Goal Twins’ – helped the club win their first-ever Serie A championship in 1990-91.

Vialli was the league’s leading goalscorer that season with 19 and his backflip celebration became commonplace. It was a golden era for Sampdoria, who also won three Italian Cups and the European Cup Winners’ Cup during Vialli’s time there. They also reached the final of the European Cup in 1992 but lost 1-0 to Barcelona at Wembley.

Juventus signed Vialli for a then world record fee of £12.5 million in 1992 and his success continued with triumphs in the UEFA Cup, Serie A and the Italian Cup. But the highlight came when Juventus defeated Ajax in the 1996 Champions League final, when he partnered Alessandro Del Piero and Fabrizio Ravanelli in a formidable strike-force.

He was tempted to Chelsea that summer as Ruud Gullit built the Blues up from mid-table anonymity to a trophy-winning side. His relationship with Gullit was rocky, however, and Vialli would only get a five-minute cameo as Chelsea won the 1997 FA Cup final by beating Middlesbrough.

Success followed almost immediately in the League Cup and then the European Cup Winners’ Cup, with Chelsea beating Stuttgart 1-0 in the final.

Retiring from playing at the end of the 1998-99 season with a career scoring record of 259 goals in 673 club games, Vialli was able to concentrate solely on his Chelsea coaching duties.

They won the FA Cup in 2000, beating Aston Villa 1-0 in the last final staged at the original Wembley Stadium. But that joy was short-lived and he was sacked five games into the 2000-01 campaign following poor results and fall-outs with players including Gianfranco Zola and Didier Deschamps.

Vialli briefly managed Watford after that but didn’t return to management, instead working as a commentator for Sky Italia and a pundit on other channels. He represented Italy 59 times at senior level, scoring 16 times. Vialli was named in the team of the tournament for Euro ’88 after Italy reached the semi-finals.

He also played in the 1990 World Cup on home soil but failed to produce the goals expected of him as Italy lost on penalties to Argentina in the semi-finals. In 2019, Vialli was appointed delegation chief for the Italy national team under head coach and friend Mancini.

He played a big role behind the scenes in their Euro 2020 triumph, achieved when they beat England on penalties at Wembley in July last year.

  • A Daily Mail report
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