Gianluca Vialli: "Leaving Chelsea broke my heart"

Gianluca Vialli
(Image credit: Getty)

This interview originally appeared in the May 2014 issue of FourFourTwo. Subscribe.

Gianluca Vialli started his club career at Cremonese in 1980, before impressing Sampdoria enough for them to sign him four years later. There, Vialli played with long-term friend and colleague Roberto Mancini, winning Serie A and the Cup Winners' Cup before Juventus shelled out a world record £12.5 million for him in 1992.

During this time in Turin, Vialli won the Italian Cup, Serie A, Italian Supercup, UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Cup. In 1996, the he joined Chelsea, becoming the Blues' player/manager the following season. He lit up English football, winning the FA Cup, the League Cup and Cup Winners' Cup. As a coach, he assisted Mancini as Italy were crowned Euro 2020 champions. 

Vialli died on January 6, 2023, following a long battle with cancer. 

I knew I’d made it as a player when...

I started training with them and soon began to realise I could be part of that Cremonese team

I was in the youth team at Cremonese and at the end of the [1980/81] season they asked me to join the first team when they returned for pre-season. I started training with them and soon began to realise I could be part of that Cremonese team.

I played a few games and later they offered me a professional contract, but by then I had come to realise I could be a professional. So it wasn’t a surprise when they offered me a contract, but it was a very big surprise to establish myself in the first team so early – I was still 17 – especially as the club already had two main strikers. 

I was happiest in football when...

I won the Champions League with Juventus in 1996 – my last match as captain of the club before joining Chelsea – and also when I won the Scudetto with Sampdoria [in 1991]. After eight years of trying, we were so glad to finally get there.

I always say that in football winning is not a joy but more of a relief, and it was such a relief when we won it. But if I had to pick between the Scudetto with Sampdoria or the Champions League, it would be the latter.

The day football broke my heart was...

That afternoon, more than football breaking my heart, I was heartbroken by Ken Bates and Colin Hutchinson

In the dressing room at Wembley when we [Sampdoria] lost the European Cup Final to Barcelona in 1992. I knew I was going to sign for Juventus that summer so I was upset for many reasons: because we had lost, because it was my last match for Sampdoria and because I had missed a great opportunity in the game. I took the blame on myself.

The other time was when I was sacked as Chelsea manager in 2000. That afternoon, more than football breaking my heart, I was heartbroken by Ken Bates and [Chelsea managing director] Colin Hutchinson.

I’ve never told anyone this before but...

I really don’t like snakes and I don’t like rats. I go to Africa a lot, so I see snakes a lot. I just don’t like them. Also, I’m allergic to garlic and onions, just in case any of your readers fancy cooking for me.

If I hadn’t played football I would...

Be working with my father in his construction company. I wish I could say a professional athlete in any other sport, but I probably would have become an architect in the family business.

My heroes growing up were...

There was an Italian film about Cruyff called Il Profeta del Gol, which I watched some 10 times.

Antonio Cabrini, who was a family friend and was going out with my sister – naughty! – and Johan Cruyff. There was an Italian film about Cruyff called Profeta del Gol (The Prophet of Goals), which I watched about 10 times.

I’ve always been in love with Cruyff, but since we lost against his Barcelona side in 1992, I have something of a love-hate relationship with him.

My proudest moment...

Apart from witnessing the birth of my two daughters, was lifting the Champions League trophy as captain of Juventus.

If I could change one thing about the game it would be...

The state of Italian football. It needs to have the fans, the players, the referees and all the clubs united in order to make the sport a better game.

Three words that sum me up are…

Hard-working, perfectionist and fair.

The one thing I couldn’t live without is…

Football, golf, my family and bread. In fact, I’ll go with bread. I like bread a lot.

My one regret in football…

Is turning down the possibility to keep on playing for the national team. At that time [Vialli won his last cap in 1992] I thought that was the right thing to do, because I was very stubborn and proud. But you should never turn down the possibility to represent your country, no matter how old you are.

If I could have one wish it would be...

To own a football club in the Premier League, ideally not too far from my home! Indeed, just to have enough money to own a football club would be a very good wish.

The item I cherish the most is...

I really enjoy golf, and people don’t realise how competitive it is

Possibly my golf stuff. I play golf once a week. I really enjoy it, and people don’t realise how competitive it is. I’m not a maniac in competition with others, but I compete with myself constantly, to try to always do better. But do Ireallycherish my golf stuff? No, not really… I tend not to get too attached to items.

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