OBITUARY: Gianluca Vialli was football's 'Lion King'

OBITUARY: Gianluca Vialli was football's 'Lion King'

OBITUARY: Gianluca Vialli achieved everything he desired in the game and showed true class throughout his long cancer battle. All of Italy is in mourning today for a man who made a generation fall in love with football

  • Gianluca Vialli passed away aged 58 following his battle with pancreatic cancer 
  • The Italian was football’s ‘Lion King’ and the sport will be poorer without him
  • He achieved everything in the game and spread a message of love throughout 
  • Vialli showed all his class, intelligence and qualities throughout an amazing life
  • Follow our live blog for latest tributes to Vialli after his death shocked football

Gianluca Vialli, who has died aged 58, was a footballing popstar. Italian football will be left in mourning after the passing of its ‘Lion King’. How sad that a man who makes you fall in love with football passes so young.

If we wanted to summarise Vialli’s career we could do it with that heartwarming hug after the victory in the 2021 European Championship final – in that embrace with Roberto Mancini there was love and friendship between two brothers of different mothers who lived a huge slice of their life together. 

Gianluca – one of the few men to hold the role of player-manager at a top club during his time with Chelsea – could reportedly be a prickly and snobbish man but he was full of heart and emotion.

Gianlucca Vialli with his wife Cathryn White-Cooper, who he married back in August 2003

Italian footballing legend Vialli has died aged 58 after a battle with pancreatic cancer

His greatest merit was to show his face to everyone while in pain by teaching dignity and respect because the disease he suffered with is not something to be ashamed of.

Vialli wouldn’t want any tears at his funeral and would be angry if he could see them slipping down the cheeks of his fans. 

He always smiled, always hid the pain and melancholy of the pancreatic cancer he suffered with because for him life was a continuous dance between a football match and dinner.

Speaking on his battle with cancer last year summed up that trait perfectly.

‘I was a player and a strong man but also a fragile one and I think someone who might recognise himself. I’m here with my flaws, fears and desire to do something important.

Vialli (L) pictured with Italy manager Roberto Mancini (R) after their victory in the 2021 European Championship final – in that embrace there was love and friendship

‘I’m not having a battle with cancer because I don’t think I’d be able to win it, it’s a much stronger opponent me. Cancer is an unwanted travel companion, but I can’t help it. 

He got on the train with me and I have to go on, travel with my head down, never giving up, hoping that one day this unwanted guest will get tired and let me live peacefully for many more years because there are still many things I want to do.’

He loved jokes and loved to laugh, like when he hid a piece of soft cheese in Arrigo Sacchi’s handkerchief at the training camp of the Italian team, laughing at his coach’s outrage.

The former Italian football star is a character who transcends generations – he has made young and old fall in love, he has created unity where previously there was a divide, managing to bring everything together with his shining eyes and his beautiful smile. 

Vialli died in London and is pictured here with his wife, Cathryn White-Cooper, at a charity ball in the city in 2013

Football has become poorer without its ‘Lion King’ and Vialli was full of heart and emotion

Vialli and his wife Cathryn White-Cooper in 2019

During his career, Vialli played with some of the greatest players of all time.

From Baggio to Del Piero, from Desailly to Ciro Ferrara, from Mihajlovic to Peruzzi, from Vierchowod to Cerezo and he gave each of them a small part of his happy and passionate world, of his fast and exciting way of life by entering their hearts.

Vialli was a tamer of emotions who knew how to handle problems and people and who was able to look cancer in the face, laughing and crying with him.

Vialli’s legacy is not only sporting but also spiritual because he embraced the disease by simply trying to do all he could while suffering. 

Very soon he realised he couldn’t fight it but had to learn to live with it for as long as possible. 

Vialli was such an intelligent man as to understand that the fight had to be on the pitch to win a game, but outside the green grass it was enough to have patience and a lot of attention in dealing with problems. 

Vialli learned to embrace his illness and leaves behind a sporting and spiritual legacy 

10 per cent of life consists of unpredictable events, the remaining 90 per cent is a gym where you learn to deal with unpleasant events.

Vialli decided to cut his hair out of respect and love for his teammate Andrea Fortunato, who fell ill with Leukemia when they both played for Juventus. This was Vialli – a man of few words but of very significant and profound gestures.

When Juventus returned to winning Scudetto number 23, with his superb performance at the ‘Delle Alpi’ in the 4-0 win against Parma, after one goal he ran to embrace a young ball boy who had approached him to celebrate. 

Vialli was a No 9 with the lungs of a No 8 and the intelligence of a No 10. The former Juventus star was an Italian worthy of glory, and he showed this around the world.

His elegance and his excellent restaurant, based in London, echoed the great beauty of Vialli who was above all an example of love and discipline.

As a boy he loved playing with fashion colours and styles. In Italy he was among the first footballers to become a sex symbol with an earring and lightening blond hair when he played for Sampdoria. 

The Italian enjoyed a glittering career where he achieved all his targets and aims throughout

All the girls loved him because he was against conformity. After wins with Juventus he loved to invite his teammates to his house and smoke a cigarette, while partaking in karaoke. 

He was a star but he shone more than all the other stars in the sky without ever arousing envy.

Vialli has achieved all targets in his career as a player and as a man. He won everything with Juventus and enjoyed the experience of a period abroad.

He married his wife Cathryn White Cooper in 2003 and had beautiful daughters, he won and lost but always claimed to have learned something new to enrich his wealth of experience.

The Italian also balanced the role of player-manager at Chelsea – an unprecedented challenge

His last wish was betrayed by the tragic events of his illness. Vialli wanted to return to the world of football and dreamed of leading the Sampdoria project, one of the teams he loved most along with Juventus and Chelsea, but time didn’t allow him. 

He would have liked to be the heir of the historic President Mantovani at the helm of the club which he has always defined as an important part of his family. 

Now we need to honour his love story with football, we need to gather around his beautiful family and remember him every day, running and working for him too.

Without asking anyone’s permission, Vialli spread a beautiful message of love and understanding towards life.

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