Italy’s football star Gianluca Vialli dies aged 58

Vialli, who played with Sampdoria, Juventus and Chelsea, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2017.

Gianluca Vialli
Gianluca Vialli played for Sampdoria, Juventus and Chelsea [File: Glyn Kirk/AFP]

Former Italian football star Gianluca Vialli has died from cancer at the age of 58.

His death was announced on Friday by the striker’s former club Sampdoria.

Born in the northern city of Cremona in 1964, Vialli enjoyed a stellar career with Italian clubs Sampdoria and Juventus, as well as English side Chelsea, and earned 59 caps for Italy.

He was first diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2017 but was given the all-clear a year later – only for the illness to return.

In a Netflix documentary aired in March, Vialli described cancer as “a travel companion” that he hoped would eventually leave him in peace, after testing his mettle.

“Illness can teach a lot about who you are, and can push you to go beyond the superficial way in which we live,” he said.

Despite the disease, he was still able to play a significant role in Italy’s Euro 2020 title-winning campaign assisting longtime Sampdoria strike partner and national coach Roberto Mancini.

Vialli and Mancini led the Italians to the tournament in 2021, lifting the trophy in Wembley Stadium where, 29 years earlier, their Sampdoria team had lost the European Cup final to Barcelona.

They celebrated with a tearful embrace that “was more beautiful than the hugs we used to give each other when I passed him the ball and he scored goals,” Vialli said in a TV interview with Italy’s RAI in November.

Italy coach Roberto Mancini celebrates with delegation chief Gianluca Vialli
Roberto Mancini and Gianluca Vialli celebrate at the Euro 2020 tournament [File: Laurence Griffiths/Reuters]

Last month, Vialli was forced to step aside from his role as head of a delegation with the Italian national team, saying he needed to focus on overcoming a new phase of his disease.

“I know that I probably will not die of old age, I hope to live as long as possible, but I feel much more fragile than before,” he said in the documentary.

Vialli made his name in eight seasons at Sampdoria, winning the Serie A title and European Cup Winners’ Cup before joining Juventus in 1992 for a then-world record 16.5 million euros.

He won the Champions League with Juventus before joining Chelsea in 1996 and becoming player-manager in 1998.

Vialli took over from the sacked Ruud Gullit late in the season and went on to lead Chelsea to victory in the League Cup, UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup and UEFA Super Cup.

He also guided Chelsea to victory in the 2000 FA Cup final but was sacked in the following season.

The Genoa-based Sampdoria gave the football star a last farewell in a statement. “We have come a long way together, growing and searching, winning and dreaming. You came as a boy, we salute you as a man,” it said.

Vialli’s death comes days after the passing of 82-year-old Brazilian football legend Pele, who had a tumour removed from his colon last year.

Another Serie A great, Siniša Mihajlović, died last month after a long battle with leukaemia. Mihajlović also played with Mancini at Sampdoria after Vialli left the club for Juventus.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies