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Gianluca Vialli


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Vialli joined Chelsea in the summer of 1996 for £1million a year (after rejecting an offer from Rangers) as part of manager Ruud Gullit's cosmopolitan rebuilding of the side, and won the FA Cup in his first season, including two goals in a spectacular 4-2 comeback over Liverpool in the fourth round, but a feud with Gullit saw him regularly left out of the starting line-up; in the final itself he was limited to a five-minute cameo appearance as a late substitute. During the 1997-98 season, he scored four goals in a win over Barnsley and a Norwegian side TromsøVialli joined Chelsea in the summer of 1996 for £1million a year (after rejecting an offer from Rangers) as part of manager Ruud Gullit's cosmopolitan rebuilding of the side, and won the FA Cup in his first season, including two goals in a spectacular 4-2 comeback over Liverpool in the fourth round, but a feud with Gullit saw him regularly left out of the starting line-up; in the final itself he was limited to a five-minute cameo appearance as a late substitute. During the 1997-98 season, he scored four goals in a win over Barnsley and a hat-trickNorwegian side Tromsø in the Cup Winners' Cup, but still couldn't cement his place in the side.

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Mancini and Vialli: a friendship deeper than the sea

https://theathletic.com/2679972/2021/06/30/mancini-and-vialli-an-italian-football-friendship-deeper-than-the-sea/

Mancini and Vialli: a friendship deeper than the sea – The Athletic

Gianluca Vialli and Roberto Mancini are standing on the terrace outside La Piedigrotta, the restaurant where they used to go out for dinner with the rest of the Sampdoria team twice a week. To them, it’s Carmine’s place, their place, where the guazzetto alla ligure — or fish soup — is as good as ever and if you’re not careful, Attilio Lombardo might use his spoon as a catapult to fling a meatball in your face. It was here that the class of ’91 gathered in May to celebrate the 30th anniversary of what the Doriani call the “schudetto”, the club’s one and only league title, a night to charge glasses and have a laugh.

And yet as Mancini stared out over the water, his mind turned to Wembley and the extra-time defeat Sampdoria suffered in the 1992 European Cup final. “We’d always won at Wembley,” he sighed. It’s true, Sampdoria regularly played and triumphed in front of its famous towers when participating in the now-defunct Makita Tournament. “There’s always a first time,” Vialli consoled him. “You either win or you learn, right? You never lose. Think about the good times.” Look on the bright side, smile and take the positives. It was quintessential Vialli.

Last Saturday, a little over a month after that reunion in Genoa, the two of them won together at Wembley. Watching Vialli run down the steps, shuffle past the little gate between the stands and the pitch, and embrace Mancini, who turned straight into his arms as if he knew his former strike partner was there, carried away in the euphoria caused by Federico Chiesa’s goal against Austria was one of the moments of the European Championship. In future, when Vialli tells Mancini to think about the good times, they’ll always have last Saturday night along with the memories they made as players.

The depth of feeling between these two runs deeper than “o Ma” — Genovese for the sea. “Roberto has been my hero since I was 14,” Vialli recalled on Che Tempo Che Fa, the show hosted by Sampdoria fan Fabio Fazio on RAI. “We met for the first time at Coverciano (the national team headquarters where, as you read this article, they’re currently working). People were already talking about him even then. We must have known each other for how long? Forty years? He had a foot in my goals and I had a foot in his.”

Friends like these are what we all look for in life. Sampdoria’s former owner Paolo Mantovani, a father figure to Mancini and Vialli, appreciated how special the bond between them was and tried to surround himself with it. When he wanted a new pet, he didn’t buy one man’s best friend but two and the dogs running around the garden at his villa in Sant’Ilario were named Roby and Luca. “I’m not sure whether I should be happy about that or not,” Vialli laughed, “but it’s true.”

Luca and il Mancio were roommates at the Astor hotel where Samp used to stay before their home games. They’d call up the team’s chef Giorgio Parri, King George as he was known, for midnight feasts of spaghetti alla bucaniera. “When you spend the night before a battle under the same roof, when you go through the same joy and pain, when you accomplish the same mission and you’re more or less the same age, how can you not be friends,” Vialli asked.

When the “Goal Twins” weren’t at Carmine’s, they were dancing ’til dawn at Carillon in Portofino or playing a game of Cirulla at Edilio, the restaurant next to the Luigi Ferraris, with the other Seven Dwarfs as they were known. Vialli was Sleepy, Mancini Dopey and Moreno Mannini, Samp’s old right-back, Sneezy, although he had such a good poker face he used to clean everybody out at cards.

After Italia ’90, which were “anything but Notti Magiche” — Magic nights — for Mancini, who didn’t play a single minute and Vialli, who tweaked his groin, pulled a thigh muscle, caught bronchitis and lost his place to Toto Schillaci, they flew off to Mauritius with Fausto Pari — now Mancini’s assistant — and the Tsar, Pietro Vierchowod to get away from it all.

 

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The former strike duo celebrate Italy reaching the quarter-final (Photo: Chris Brunskill/Fantasista/Getty Images)

 

Upon returning to Genoa, Vialli — still not over the disappointment — asked Mantovani for more time to decompress. In return, Vialli promised to turn a negative into a positive. He vowed that Samp would win the Scudetto which is exactly what they did for the first and last time in their history. It was a sporting miracle every bit as incredible as the bald Lombardo’s hair growing back on the final day of the season — when he wore a wig for a week, gladly following through on the dare he set himself on a bus ride to Turin when an injury-hit Samp side, on its way to play Juventus, cheered itself up by going from player to player, asking them what they would do in the event the Blucerchiati were crowned champions in May.

It was Lombardo who pursued Vialli down the Wembley steps last weekend to join him in piling on Mancini and who knows maybe he’ll get his hair-piece out again if Italy win the Euros. “Don’t believe anyone who tells you football is a war,” Vialli said. “It’s a sport, a game and you play games with your mates.”

As a player working under them, who wouldn’t want that for their own team? A band of brothers, best friends for ever. “Any excuse to get together is a good one,” Vialli said. And no more so than in the winter of 2018 when Gabriele Gravina, the president of the Italian Football Federation, reached out to see if he might consider serving as head of the delegation — or team leader — at the Euros.

At the time, Vialli was undergoing a second punishing round of chemotherapy. The pancreatic cancer he had been treated for was back. Originally Vialli thought he had done something as innocuous as trapping a nerve while playing golf. He asked his friend Gigi Buffon to put him in touch with the specialist he’d seen after the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. But there was clearly more to the shooting pains in his glutes than sciatica. “I started feeling a way I’ve never felt before,” Vialli wrote. “It’s as if I’ve become someone else. I feel empty, drained, without an ounce of faith and positivity. I find myself crying often. I try to go for walks but even a few steps are difficult. So difficult that I simply give up.”

 

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Mancini and Vialli pictured together at Sampdoria in 1989 (Photo: Claudio Villa / Contributor)

 

He lost 16kg and began wearing extra layers, jumpers under chunky knits, to look bulkier. His daughters drew his eyebrows on and did his make up while he underwent chemo in order to help him “look like what Gianluca Vialli is supposed to look like”. A stag emerging from the forest, as his old coach Vujadin Boskov famously described a confident, young Vialli. He didn’t want his friends and loved ones to worry. “This is a protective measure. To protect them, but also myself. The way they speak to me, relate to me, joke with me… I don’t want that to change. Ever.”

It was while receiving treatment that Vialli began studying Asian philosophy and compiled quotes, mantras and stories to help him think and stay positive. They have since been published in his second book Goals, which has been translated into English by my Golazzo colleague, Gabriele Marcotti. “They are now a part of me,” Vialli explained, “They are my spiritual strength… my armour.” Vialli, however, never saw cancer as a battle. “I am not a warrior. I am not fighting cancer. It’s too strong an enemy and I wouldn’t stand a chance. I am a man on a journey and cancer has joined me on that journey like an unwanted travel companion. My goal is to keep moving, keep walking until he’s had enough and leaves me alone.”

Vialli accepted the FIGC’s proposal out of a love for his country and the opportunity it provided to keep busy amongst friends. “I’m at a stage in my life when I want to inspire people,” he said at La Gazzetta dello Sport’s Festival of Sport. “I want to try to help people and make a contribution. I hope to add value but I also want to learn too because I’m a curious person.” Curiosity has always distinguished Vialli. You see it in his university degree, his book the Italian Job that seeks to understand his own football culture and the one he experienced in England, which has become a second home to him.

Culture fascinates him and Vialli’s presence at Coverciano seems to have been mutually restorative. The “sunny disposition” he lost came back during his initiation, when he sang Lucio Battisti’s Canzone del Sole — the Sun Song — in front of the squad, a ballad about falling in love, first times, and how the outdoors and contact with nature has a revitalising effect.

When Mancini’s assistant Lele Oriali was absent for the Nations League game against Poland in November, Vialli returned to the bench for the first time since his days managing Watford. At one stage the ball rolled out of play, next to Italy’s dug-out. Vialli picked it up and kissed it before tossing it back. It was a gesture of love. Vialli was two and he already knew what he wanted to be when he grew up. His mother threw him an orange ball and he instinctively kicked it. That was it. That ball gave him a career, it made him friends, it gave him a purpose.

 

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Vialli and Mancini pictured in 1991, the year the pair won the league with Sampdoria (Photo: Alessandro Sabattini/Getty Images)

 

Typically when Vialli sat back down next to Mancini he reflected on how it made him feel. “I had always been by Roberto’s side on the pitch. It brought back memories, reawakened old emotions.”

The same ones that we saw in their celebration at Wembley, which were so evocative of the late ’80s and early ’90s when one congratulated the other on a fine goal they’d just scored for Samp. To adapt his own line, that “is what Gianluca Vialli is supposed to look like”. The one people know and love. A best friend to Mancini and inspiration to many.

“Life is 10 per cent what happens to us,” Vialli says, “and 90 per cent how we deal with it…”

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