Still smiling despite his battle against cancer, Gianluca Vialli has become the beloved, good-luck symbol of Italian resilience at Euro 2020… now he and his great friend Roberto Mancini have the chance to end their Wembley curse together after 33 years
- Italy legend Gianluca Vialli was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2017
- The 57-year-old was given the all-clear in April 2020 after three tough years
- He joined the Italy set-up when close friend Roberto Mancini became manager
- Vialli is the symbol of Italian resilience that Leonardo Bonucci talks about
- Italy fans are all still moved whenever they see Vialli celebrate a goal
- Mancini’s side are one just one step away from being crowned champions
- Find out the latest Euro 2020 news including fixtures, live action and results here
This is the extraordinary story of Gianluca Vialli, the lion who does not give up on cancer, the symbol of resilience, the great man with a heart of gold.
It is Vialli who best represents the Italian spirit in this extraordinary and at times painful Euro 2020. Seeing him celebrate with Roberto Mancini for every goal is a moving scene that tells of a wonderful person who has understood due to pancreatic cancer that he cannot have a lot of time available.
Living knowing that you have a life expectancy lower than that of a healthy human being is not easy, but Vialli’s attitude is moving Italy and the many families who constantly fight against cancer.
Gianluca Vialli has become Italy’s symbol of resilience after his valiant fight against cancer
Watching Vialli and Roberto Mancini celebrate is like when they were playing for Sampdoria
When a person falls ill with this horrible disease, the pain does not pervade the patient’s body but also that of his family who lives the pain in symbiosis: they suffer with him in every moment.
Italy loves Vialli, all the fans are moved when they see him cheering for a goal embraced by the coach Mancini as if they were still young boys with their Sampdoria shirts on.
It is the miracle of football, it is the miracle of the most important religion in Italy after that of the Vatican City.
The Vialli affair deserves more attention from the Italian media because it tells of a great man who hides behind a veil of shyness and sadness, who had an exceptional physique yet today counts the scars on his abdomen.
Vialli is a man who teaches a lot while keeping silent: his is a very rare gift that the 26 players of the national team are lucky enough to be able to learn in this forced coexistence of the European adventure.
A superstitious ritual, revealed by the Italian newspaper Liber, began when the team nearly left him on foot before the Turkey game.
The first to get on the team bus is Francesco Acerbi, the last Gianluigi Donnarumma. Vialli waits in the atrium of Coverciano, the team’s HQ. The bus closes the doors pretending to leave and forget Vialli, then stops after a hundred metres and Vialli arrives running.
Everything is repeated exactly as before that tournament opener with Turkey, apart from the detail that that day the bus really was leaving and Vialli jumped on the fly because they had forgotten him, before he was welcomed on board by all the cheerful and amused players.
Defender Leonardo Bonucci has often spoken of ‘resilience’, or rather of an Italy that knows how to suffer.
Those words full of love were a subtle dedication to Vialli, who does not have to get tired and have stress but who has chosen to accept the post of ambassador of Italy at this tournament as a collaborator with Mancini, his friend for life.
Leonardo Bonucci often speaks about Italy’s resillience, which is something Vialli personifies
Matteo Pessina’s first goal in this European Championship gave away one of those images that will remain etched in the Italian film.
Immediately after the goal scored by the Atalanta midfielder, the RAI cameras lingered over an exultant Mancini with clenched fists hugging Vialli.
A strong, exciting, almost touching embrace was born between the two. It lasted a few seconds, then the two patted each other on the back and returned to their seats: this image should become a commercial for football in the world in which joy is a small part of the story in the life of an athlete.
Vialli has just turned 57 and in Coverciano he blew out 57 candles of the blue cake given to him by the chefs of the national team together with the team on the anniversary of the 2006 World Cup won in Berlin. It is difficult to think of a better way to celebrate.
Because ‘Gianluca the lion’ has always dreamed of having a birthday like this. Vialli was born from a noble and wealthy family from Cremona, a very small city in northern Italy located near Milan. Vialli lived in a castle that everyone called ‘Castello dei Vialli’ for its majesty.
Vialli joined Italy’s national set-up when Roberto Mancini was appointed as manager
His life and his professional choices were made exclusively for the love of football: he probably could have lived on his wealth and learned any profession, enjoying the wonderful family history that belongs to him, but he has always chosen to live football with love and sacrifice. Vialli was born to be a man of charisma, to win and to sweat on a football field roaring like a lion of the savannah.
Among the most beautiful images broadcast by Rai is the great attention to physical preparation, and Vialli trains with the players in some specific sessions.
He is always the first to run and cheer for his team-mates on the bench and he always wants to be there.
He is the sociologist of the group, he is the one who lifted the struggling Ciro Immobile ahead of this final during the last training sessions in Coverciano. Vialli transmits security and his illness against which he is constantly fighting makes us understand how fundamental it is for him to live.
Vialli often wears a particular hat that in Italy is called ‘Coppola’, a tool that Sicilian peasants used to shelter from the sun and which today has become a fundamental defence tool to avoid suffering the heat in a very delicate moment of his life. The fatigue is much higher, the annoyances are accentuated but Vialli does not give up and teaches everyone how to live even when you have an expiration date on your back like milk cartons.
Vialli is an extraordinary man who is much loved by the fans in Italy as well as their players
During Che Tempo Che Fa, a TV programme very popular in Italy, Vialli said: ‘As soon as I learned about my illness, among the target of my life there are two great goals: to live longer than my parents in order not to give them a displeasure; and bring my beautiful daughters to the altar.’
During a long interview with Corriere della Sera, Vialli talked about the change in his priorities in life: ‘When I started to lose the hair on my eyebrows, they drew my face with make-up and I was happy to see it like this. So much love around me, it will take some time before you can get rid of that feeling that every time you wake up or go to sleep with a bit of a stomach ache or a headache or a bit of a high fever you think: “Oh my God, he’s back.” There were so many things I had to work on to improve myself.’
The credit for his presence in this European Championship goes to Gabriele Gravina: his name was given directly by the president of the Italian FA to try to give a joy to Vialli, who never had much of a place in the national team.
His history as a player is very particular and we can say that his very cheerful but at the same time very shy character was never much appreciated in the national team: the blond hair, the earring, and this desire to bite life and snatch joy has not always been understood by the coaches on the bench of Italy.
Every now and then in some videos of celebrations with Juventus he was seen smoking a cigarette. Vialli has always loved life, he has always loved football and has always had the heart bigger than any ball that he decided to kick away in his life. .
Legend has it that Vialli made a joke during a team retreat to then boss Arrigo Sacchi, hiding some butter inside his handkerchief. A funny gesture but not very welcome in the rigid parameters of the Italian national team.
Vialli was a man with a very strong personality that not everyone loved but that everyone always respected. Like his choice to go to London to play for Chelsea despite the rich offers of Rangers. Vialli lived for football and loved the Premier League, for him playing in London was a dream to be realised at all costs. Money has always had a secondary place in his life hierarchy.
Italy are just one step away from winning Euro 2020 with their final on Sunday against England
Vialli returned to speak on television after his battle against cancer talking about his feelings for Mancini: ‘Between me and Roberto Mancini there was a great friendship, indeed a brotherhood that has always helped us on the pitch.’
Mancini then revealed a ‘secret’ about Vialli’s entry into the Italian family: ‘Gianluca was chosen by the FIGC president Gravina but when he told me what he had thought we were happy and he brought us all his experience because he was a great player.’
The compliments are reciprocal, and a smiling and moved Vialli said: ‘Roberto is a great coach. But in addition to his competence he transmits great confidence to the boys, who when they hear him then walk on water.’
Vialli also spoke about his relationship with the Italy shirt and the passion that every player should guarantee: ‘We have a duty to win but above all to give emotions, with loyalty and a sense of love for Italy but also pride and at the same time humility because the national team has existed for 120 years and those who wear the jersey only borrow it but then have to return it.’
Extremely different on and off the pitch but brothers over the years. Vialli was a muscular striker, powerful and acrobatic, who loves tattoos. ‘Mancio’ on the other hand is more elegant, a support striker who scores many goals and a player that every striker would like next to him. Vialli is exuberant, Mancini appreciably calm.
Together they were the legendary goalscoring twins, the flagship of Vujadin Boskov’s Sampdoria and their historic Scudetto. They are plotting a great revenge on the cursed Wembley stadium where they lost the Champions League final for Sampdoria on June 10, 33 years ago.
Vialli and Mancini’s Sampdoria lost the European Cup final to Barcelona at Wembley in 1992
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