Gianluca Vialli’s passing at the age of 58 wasn’t a mere matter of the footballing world losing an all-time great, but of a truly precious soul escaping humanity’s grasp.
His final battle with pancreatic cancer was one the former Italian striker couldn’t win but, for Vialli, it was never a battle in the first place. “I don’t want to fight cancer,” he said back in 2020, “because it would be too big and powerful an enemy,” he said.
“I feel this is a journey. It’s about travelling with an unwanted travel companion until hopefully it gets bored and dies before me.”
Even in the face of adversity towards the latter stages of his life, Vialli remained stoic and his infectious aura continued to leave an imprint of whomever was fortuante enough to be in the Italian’s larger than life presence.
The tributes have poured in from all directions of the footballing sphere to celebrate Vialli’s life, none more poignant than Graeme Souness’, whose steely persona dissipated in the wake of his former teammates’ passing. The Scotsman, who grew close to Vialli during his time at Sampdoria, described him as a “gorgeous soul”.
“He was just a truly nice human being,” Souness said, “he was just fabulous to be around. He was such a fun-loving guy, full of mischief, wonderful footballer and a warm human being.”
Souness won the Coppa Italia in 1985 alongside a young Vialli, who would eventually spearhead the most successful period in Sampdoria’s history alongside goal twin Roberto Mancini. The pair were inseparable, and 30 years after helping Samp to their first and only Scudetto triumph, Mancini brought in his former strike partner as the delegation chief of the Italian national team as the Azzurri won Euro 2020.
In an ode to his “little brother”, Mancini labelled Vialli a “perfect, courageous man” before saying “it was a privilege to be his friend, his team-mate in football and life.”
The Italy boss added that his Azzurri outfit “loved” the former striker, and Vialli’s impact on those he coached was clear to see in the wake of his passing.
“You will always be an example. I love you,” said Juventus midfielder Manuel Locatelli on Instagram, while Leonardo Bonucci added: “Every time we talked, I was enriched. We often found ourselves discussing all various aspects of life.”
Juventus claimed victory in their first game after Vialli’s passing against Udinese with Federico Chiesa, one of the stars of Italy’s Euro 2020 campaign, paying tribute post-match: “He was a wonderful person and I was so lucky to cross paths with him in my life, as he was a real champion, but above all a marvellous human being.
“At the Euros he really was like an extra player, he was on the pitch with us. We could talk for hours about what a great man he was. The victory is for him.”
Across Italy, tributes to one of the finest forwards to ever grace calcio were paid up and down the country. Sampdoria bade an emotional farewell to their former hero ahead of Napoli’s visit to the Luigi Ferraris as all Serie A teams respectfully observed a minute’s silence.
A classy gesture from Jose Mourinho saw his Roma squad and coaching staff pay their respects to Vialli before training on the day of his passing, while other Serie A managers were keen to discuss Vialli when they spoke to the media.
“The year 2023 has not started well because we have lost a champion of sport and life, a generous, proper person with unique values,” said Stefano Pioli, while Max Allegri described Vialli as a “role model” who’ll be missed by everybody.
Vialli’s former Juventus teammate, Antonio Conte, meanwhile, paid a heartfelt tribute on Instagram. The Tottenham boss has lost three close friends in the space of a couple of months with Gian Piero Ventrone and Sinisa Mihajlović also passing away, and the Italian renounced all media duties over the weekend.
“Having dinner together in London a few months ago as we had fun remembering all our adventures and battles on the field,” Conte wrote. “Unfortunately in these last few years you had to fight a great and terrible battle in life.
“I told you and wrote that you have always been an inspiration to me as my captain and for how you were proving to be strong, proud and brave, fighting like a lion against this disease. Always in my heart my friend.