Gianluca Vialli, the inspirational Italian who will forever have a place in Chelsea history

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Gianluca Vialli grew up in a castle in northern Italy but made London his home.

The son of a millionaire, Vialli had all the trappings of a regal upbringing at Castello di Belgioioso in Cremona. But after winning the Champions League with Juventus in 1996, the prodigious striker moved to Chelsea and became a prince among men at Stamford Bridge.

Vialli spent four years at Chelsea as a player and then their manager, leading the Blues to glory in the 1998 European Cup Winners’ Cup. Aged 33 years and 308 days, player-manager Vialli picked himself for the final as Chelsea edged past Stuttgart 1-0 in Stockholm.

Gianfranco Zola’s finish sealed Chelsea’s first European crown since 1971, forever placing Vialli on the plinth of European trophy-winning Blues managers. Vialli then settled in London and Chelsea fans will never tire of his Stamford Bridge contribution, especially as the 1998 League Cup triumph secured a fine double.

He would later meet his protracted cancer battle with the same assured grace and grit that coloured his life in football. As a player, Vialli swept the board at Cremonese, Sampdoria and Juventus, claiming two Serie A titles, four Coppa Italias, the Champions League crown, UEFA Cup and European Cup Winners’ Cup.

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)

After arriving at Chelsea, he helped the Blues to FA Cup glory in 1997. He was appointed as player-manager in February 1998 following Ruud Gullit’s exit and that European Cup Winners’ Cup triumph followed at the end of that season.

The following season, Chelsea beat Real Madrid to win the European Super Cup and finished third in the Premier League before Vialli retired as a player. He scored the winner in his final game to secure a 2-1 win over Derby at Stamford Bridge on the last day of the season.

Chelsea made their debut in the Champions League under Vialli the following season and he guided the Blues to another FA Cup success in 2000. Vialli was sacked just five games into the 2000-01 season however, and a short-lived stint at Watford would prove his last in management. Punditry and business roles followed before he helped drive Italy to Euro 2020 glory.

Vialli, who won 59 caps for his country as a player, reunited with one-time Sampdoria “goal twin” Roberto Mancini as team manager for the Azzurri.

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

A double act so deadly on the field proved ruthlessly efficient in the dugout too, as Vialli thrived in the role. In the hours before Italy beat England 3-2 on penalties at Wembley, Vialli stood on the Wembley pitch in quiet contemplation.

His two lives were about to intersect, plus he had his “unwanted guest” along for the ride too. Italy versus England, his homeland versus his adopted home.

That extra guest was Vialli’s pancreatic cancer, and the term he coined for his illness. First diagnosed in 2017, Vialli enjoyed several bouts of remission but was always acutely aware of its potential return. And yet when it came to living and thriving, he did not even blink.

Of all the possible tributes to Vialli, perhaps Italy full-back Alessandro Florenzi put it best when reflecting on that Euros triumph.

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

“We have among us an example that teaches us how to live, in any moment, in any situation,” said Florenzi. “Without him, this victory would mean nothing.”

Vialli’s was a career and life boasting the legacies of at least three reinventions. Only football’s special few have the power to unite supporters of multiple European powerhouses in common respect.

And at Chelsea, his name will forever help supporters of a certain vintage prove the pedigree of the Blues’ life before Roman Abramovich.