Chelsea and Italy legend Gianluca Vialli dies after cancer battle, aged 58

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Gianluca Vialli, the former Chelsea player and manager, has died, aged 58, following a long battle with pancreatic cancer.

The former Italy striker had been working with the national team under head coach Roberto Mancini, his former striker partner at Sampdoria, but on December 14 it was announced he would be stepping away from his role to focus on his treatment.

Vialli had said the move was “hopefully temporary”, but just before Christmas, his 87-year-old mother, Maria Teresa, travelled from Italy to London to be at her son’s hospital bedside, suggesting his condition was serious.

Vialli joined Chelsea from Juventus, where he had won the Champions League, in 1996 and became the first Italian to manage in the Premier League when he was appointed player-manager by then chairman Ken Bates in 1998.

In Pictures | Gianluca Vialli

(Bongarts/Getty Images)
(Bongarts/Getty Images)
17th June 1996: New Chelsea signing Gianlucia Vialli tries on his new shirt on the terraces at Stamford Bridg (PA)
17th June 1996: New Chelsea signing Gianlucia Vialli tries on his new shirt on the terraces at Stamford Bridg (PA)
2nd November 1996: Gianluca Vialli takes to the air to control the ball before scoring Chelsea’’s second goal during the Manchester United v Chelsea Premier League match at Old Trafford in Manchester, (Getty Images)
2nd November 1996: Gianluca Vialli takes to the air to control the ball before scoring Chelsea’’s second goal during the Manchester United v Chelsea Premier League match at Old Trafford in Manchester, (Getty Images)
11th July 2021: Gianluca Vialli, Delegation Chief of Italy celebrates with The Henri Delaunay Trophy following his team’s victory in the UEFA Euro 2020 Championship Final between Italy and England at Wembley Stadium (Getty Images)
11th July 2021: Gianluca Vialli, Delegation Chief of Italy celebrates with The Henri Delaunay Trophy following his team’s victory in the UEFA Euro 2020 Championship Final between Italy and England at Wembley Stadium (Getty Images)
circa 1984: Sampdoria striker Gianluca Vialli (l) rides the challenge of Paolo Pochesci of Ascoli (r) during a match in Genoa, Italy (Getty Images)
circa 1984: Sampdoria striker Gianluca Vialli (l) rides the challenge of Paolo Pochesci of Ascoli (r) during a match in Genoa, Italy (Getty Images)
5th March 1995: Gianlucsa Vialli during a match against Inter Milan at the San siro Stadium (Getty Images)
5th March 1995: Gianlucsa Vialli during a match against Inter Milan at the San siro Stadium (Getty Images)
26th November 1995: Gianluca Vialli of Juventus vies with Faustino Asparilla  of Parma (Getty Images)
26th November 1995: Gianluca Vialli of Juventus vies with Faustino Asparilla of Parma (Getty Images)
4th August 1996: Gianluca Vialli with the Umbro trophy after today’s Umbro Cup final against Ajax at the City Ground, Nottingham (PA)
4th August 1996: Gianluca Vialli with the Umbro trophy after today’s Umbro Cup final against Ajax at the City Ground, Nottingham (PA)
circa 1996: New Chelsea signing Gianluca Vialli (C) looks on with team mates during a training session after signing from Juventus in London (Getty Images)
circa 1996: New Chelsea signing Gianluca Vialli (C) looks on with team mates during a training session after signing from Juventus in London (Getty Images)
28th  February 1998: Chelsea’s Gianluca Vialli during a FA Carling Premiership match vs Liverpool (Chelsea FC via Getty Images)
28th February 1998: Chelsea’s Gianluca Vialli during a FA Carling Premiership match vs Liverpool (Chelsea FC via Getty Images)
16th April 1998: Gianluca Vialli of Chelsea out-jumps a Vicenza defender during the match between Chelsea v Vicenza in the European Cup Winners’’ Cup Semi-final played at Stamford Bridge, London, England. Chelsea won the match 3-1 to go into the Final. (Getty Images)
16th April 1998: Gianluca Vialli of Chelsea out-jumps a Vicenza defender during the match between Chelsea v Vicenza in the European Cup Winners’’ Cup Semi-final played at Stamford Bridge, London, England. Chelsea won the match 3-1 to go into the Final. (Getty Images)

He led the Blues to League Cup, European Cup Winners’ Cup, Super Cup, FA Cup and Charity Shield glory but was sacked in September 2000.

His time at Stamford Bridge was also notable for handing a debut to John Terry, who would go on to become one of the Blues’ greatest-ever players and captains and never forgot Vialli’s contribution to his career.

Vialli also had a short spell in charge of second-tier Watford during the 2001-02 season, but was dismissed after the Hornets finished 14th. He never took another job in management, but remained in London. In 2003, he married Cathryn White-Cooper, with whom he had two daughters.

Chelsea tweeted this morning: “You’ll be missed by so many. A legend to us and to all of football. Rest in peace, Gianluca Vialli.”

He came through the ranks at Cremonese and helped to lift his hometown club into Serie B, before joining Sampdoria, where, alongside Mancini, he formed one of the most feared strike partnerships in Europe.

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Vialli and Mancini were a lethal pairing, helping Sampdoria to win a hat-trick of Italian Cups, the European Cup Winners’ Cup and their first and only Serie A title in 1991, with Vialli finishing as the league’s top scorer that season.

The pair also inspired Sampdoria to the European Cup Final in 1992, only to lose after extra-time to Johan Cruyff’s Barcelona side.

Vialli joined Juve in 1992 in a then world-record £12million deal and captained them to their Champions League win over Ajax on penalties in 1996.

In an emotional tribute, Sampdoria wrote: “You gave us so much, we gave you so much: yes, it was love, reciprocal, infinite. A love that will not die today. We will continue to love and adore you.”

Vialli revealed he had undergone radiotherapy and chemotherapy treatment in November 2018, having been diagnosed a year earlier. He was given the all-clear in April 2020, but in December 2021 revealed the cancer had returned.