Former Chelsea player and manager Gianluca Vialli has died aged 58 following a lengthy battle with pancreatic cancer, the Italian Football Federation has said.
The former Italy and Juventus striker was first diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2017 and announced he had been given the all-clear in 2020 after treatment at the Royal Marsden Hospital in London. He was re-diagnosed with the disease in 2021 and announced last month that he had stepped down from his role as Italy’s national team delegation chief.
Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera reported before Christmas that his 87-year-old mother Maria Teresa and brother Nino had travelled to be with Vialli in a London hospital.
During a 16-year playing career in Italy, Vialli won every major trophy on offer, including Serie A titles with Sampdoria (1991) and Juventus (1995), the Champions League with the latter in 1996, the UEFA Cup and the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup. He was also a four-time Coppa Italia winner.
He scored 16 goals in 59 appearances for Italy, featured in the 1986 and 1990 World Cups and helped the Azzurri to a third-place finish at the latter, while his £12.5million transfer from Sampdoria to Juventus in 1992 was a world record fee at the time.
Vialli joined Chelsea in 1996 and helped them win the FA Cup at the end of his first season before guiding the London club to glory in both the League Cup and UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup as player-manager the following season. His appeal extended beyond Stamford Bridge due to his grasp of colloquial English and the glint in his eye.
Former England striker Peter Crouch tweeted: “I’m genuinely gutted about this. I had Sampdoria home and away shirts because of him. I tried to replicate his volleys in the park and such a lovely man when I met him. RIP.”
He won his fifth major trophy in less than three years in charge, when they won the FA Cup in 2000, becoming the club’s most successful manager at the time, before being sacked five games into the following season. Chelsea tweeted: “You’ll be missed by so many. A legend to us and to all of football. Rest in peace, Gianluca Vialli.”
Despite his on-going fight against cancer, he was appointed as Italy’s new delegation chief under close friend and head coach Roberto Mancini, and played a key role in the country’s Euro 2020 triumph.
After Italy’s penalty shoot-out win against England in the final at Wembley, full-back Alessandro Florenzi summed up the impact Vialli had on their triumphant squad.
He said: “He will hate me for saying this, but I don’t care. We have among us an example that teaches us how to live, in any moment, in any situation. And I’m talking about Gianluca Vialli. For us, he’s special. Without him, and without Mancini and the other coaches, this victory would mean nothing. He is a living example. I know he will get angry, but I just had to say it.”
Has the cause of death been revealed?
While the cause of death has not been officially announced, Vialli had a lengthy battle with pancreatic cancer. He was first diagnosed with it in 2017 and after treatment at the Royal Marsden Hospital in London announced he had been given the all-clear in 2020.
Vialli revealed he underwent eight months of chemotherapy and six weeks of radio therapy. At the time, he said: "It's been a year and I'm back to having a beastly physique. But I still have no certainty of how this match will end." He stepped down from his role with Italy in December after being re-diagnosed with the disease in 2021.
Vialli was the son to a self-made millionaire, and was brought up with his four siblings in the 60-room castle - Castello di Belgioioso in Cremona, north-west Italy. After leaving school aged 15 he made his first-team debut for local side Cremonese, then in the Italian third tier, at 16.
His 23 goals in 105 appearances for Cremonese helped them reach Serie A within four years and earned Vialli a move to Sampdoria, where he went on to become one of the leading strikers of his generation.
Vialli remained in London after leaving Chelsea and married South Africa-born British-based model Cathryn White-Cooper in 2003. He is survived by his wife and their daughters Olivia and Sofia.
What has been said?
Tributes from across world football are being posted online, remembering the Italian great. Real Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti, himself a former Chelsea head coach, simply tweeted “Ciao amico mio. RIP Gianluca Vialli”, which of course translates to “Goodbye my friend”, along with a picture of himself and Vialli.
There have also been several tributes from official club and football federation accounts including the Italian national team, Chelsea and Juventus among others. Here are a selection of the posts:
@Azzurri_En: “Ciao Gianluca, you will forever be remembered”
@juventusfcen: “Ciao Gianluca”
@ChelseaFC: “You’ll be missed by so many. A legend to us and to all of football. Rest in peace, Gianluca Vialli”