Player Profile: Gianluca Vialli
Date of Birth: 9/07/1964
Height: 1.80 m
National Team: Italy
International Caps: 59
International Goals: 16
Every once in a while, there comes a forward who’s capable of everything. Gianluca Vialli was one such player. The Italian could play upfront, as a second striker or on the wing and was equally proficient with both feet and his head. But what made him even more special was the leadership qualities that he displayed both on and off the pitch.
Vialli started his career with his local club Cremonese in the third tier of Italian football. He helped them win promotion to Serie B in his very first season. After four seasons with Cremonese, Vialli earned a move to Sampdoria where he really blossomed as a striker. Vialli’s striker partner at the club was childhood friend Roberto Mancini, who would later go on to manage the likes of Manchester City and the Italy national team. With the duo firing in goals at will, Sampdoria rose to the top of Italian football.
The 1990-91 season was his best with 26 league games yielding 19 goals, and no one scored more goals in the league that season. It was perhaps no surprise then that Sampdoria won the Scudetto that season for the first time in their history. That same season, Sampdoria won the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup with Vialli scoring in the final against Anderlecht.
The 1991-92 season though saw Vialli come within touching distance of an even bigger honour. Sampdoria mounted an unlikely run to the final of the European Cup, and Vialli was the joint third-highest scorer in the tournament with six goals. Sampdoria was only stopped in the final by an excellent Barcelona side.
That final would prove to be Vialli’s last contribution to Sampdoria as Juventus came in for him with a world record bid during the summer. Vialli would cost the Turin club a whopping £12.5 million, the highest fee paid for a player at that point. He joined a star-studded line-up that contained the likes of Roberto Baggio, Paolo Di Canio and Pierluigi Casiraghi.
It didn’t take long for him to make an impact – Juventus won the UEFA Cup in his very first season at the club. Vialli’s most prolific season at the club came in 1994-95 when he scored 17 goals in 30 league games and 22 overall. Propelled by his exploits, Juventus won both the Serie A and the Coppa Italia that season. The next season was even sweeter for Juve and Vialli as they won the UEFA Champions League, beating Ajax in the final.
Vialli’s contract expired at the end of the season and he chose not to renew it. Instead, he opted to move abroad, joining Premier League side Chelsea. Vialli was 32, and it was clear that his time as an active player was coming to an end. However, he did manage to have an impact in crucial games for Chelsea. The team won the FA Cup in the 1996-97 season with Vialli playing an instrumental role in the 4-2 demolition of Liverpool in the fourth round. Vialli scored two goals in that match.
An uneasy relationship with manager Ruud Gullit though meant that Vialli was never the first name on the teamsheet. But when the Dutchman was sacked at the start of Vialli’s third season, he assumed the role of player-manager, retiring as an active player at the end of the season.
Gianluca Vialli was just 21 when he made his national team debut against Poland in 1985. The early promise that he showed, combined with his great record for Italy’s U21s, prompted Italy coach Enzo Bearzot to include him in the national team squad for the 1986 World Cup. Italy did not fare well though, getting knocked out in the Round of 16 by France, with Vialli appearing in all four of Italy’s matches as a substitute.
It was not until more than a year after his debut that Vialli scored his first goal for the national team, against Malta in a Euro 1988 qualifier. That tournament itself would go on to become a milestone in Vialli’s international career. He was influential in Italy’s run to the semi-finals, even scoring the winner against Spain in the group stage. As a result, Vialli was included in UEFA’s Team of the Tournament.
Naturally, big things were expected of him in the 1990 World Cup that Italy was hosting. But he ended up having a rather forgettable tournament. After failing to score in the opening few matches, Vialli lost his place in the starting eleven. He even missed a penalty in the group stage game against the USA. Vialli was restored to the starting eleven in the semi-final against Argentina, but Italy went out on penalties. He finished the tournament without scoring a single goal, though he did have two assists to his name.
Vialli rediscovered his goalscoring form in the Euro 1992 qualifiers with goals against Hungary and Cyprus. However, Italy failed to qualify for the tournament. Arrigo Sacchi took charge of the national team following the disappointment and Vialli’s rumoured falling out with him brought his international career to a premature end. He was just 28 when he played his last game for Italy in 1992.
Where is Gianluca Vialli now?
Gianluca Vialli was still a player when he tried his hand at management. He was appointed as the man in charge of Chelsea while he was still a player after Ruud Gullit’s sacking in 1998. He had an immediate impact.
Vialli guided Chelsea, who were already in the latter stages of the League Cup and the European Cup Winners’ Cup, to victory in both competitions. The latter victory saw him become the youngest man to win a European competition at the time – he was just 33. Vialli was also the first Italian to coach in the Premier League.
Chelsea went onto perform exceptionally well in the next season under Vialli, who still opted to remain an active player. They won the European Super Cup with a victory over Real Madrid and kept the pressure on eventual league winners Manchester United all season, eventually falling short by just four points and finishing third. Vialli finally retired as an active player towards the end of the season after more or less playing as a part-time player throughout the season.
In the Premier League, the club could not reach the heights of the season before, finishing fifth in the league. However, Vialli did have his moments to savour that season. They reached the quarter-finals of the Champions League, even managing to beat Barcelona at Stamford Bridge before losing out on aggregate. They also managed to win the FA Cup, beating Aston Villa in the final.
Even though Vialli started the 2000-01 campaign brightly with victory over Manchester United in the Charity Shield, he was sacked just five games into the season. After falling out with several key players at the club, his position had become untenable.
Despite his largely successful spell at Chelsea, Vialli’s next move saw him take the reins of Watford in the English second tier. Vialli had an unsuccessful stint in-charge though and was sacked after a year as Watford finished fourteenth.
His managerial career ended there, but Vialli has remained connected with the game ever since. He regularly works as a TV commentator for Sky Italia and was on the BBC panel during Euro 2012.
Vialli has been active as a businessman founding the sports investment venture Tifosi. He is also an author, co-authoring a book on his experiences playing in the English and Italian leagues. All proceeds from the book were donated to charity.
In November 2019, Vialli signed up to help his former strike partner Roberto Mancini, who was now Italy coach, by taking on a role as the national team’s chief delegate.
Did you know? Interesting facts about Vialli
– Many footballers have a rag to riches story, but Gianluca Vialli is not one of them. His father is a millionaire and Vialli was brought up in a house with more than 60 rooms.
– Vialli has revealed that he has had cancer twice. In 2018, he announced that he had overcome a year-long battle with the disease. In 2020, he again said that he had recovered from pancreatic cancer.
– Apart from football, Vialli is also good at golf. He has played on the European tour.