Italy knew Gianluca Vialli was dying, but his loss still shook the country.
He was. More than just a footballer – He was a cultural figure whose passion for sports, his country and the sanctity of life stood before him.
“Gone too soon,” mourned the sports newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport, which called him “our delicate friend” whose “beauty has always been his hallmark”.
His story did not make the poor boy good. Valli was the son of a self-made millionaire who grew up in a Lombardy mansion.
But money could not buy his natural skills as a footballer.
He shone for his local team Cremona, then for Sampdoria, where his talent caught the world’s attention, and then at Juventus, the Turin giants, who made him the world’s most expensive footballer and reaped the benefits. .
From there, he moved to Chelsea and had an enduring love affair with life in London.
But he was never anything but a proud Italian who worked alongside his dear friend Roberto Mancini in managing the national team.
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Because, for all his absolute brilliance as a player (and indeed, he was phenomenal, breaking the mold of forward play), I suspect Italy’s sadness is about something else.
Vialli was passionate, cheerful and open with his emotions.
He gave us tears, screams, laughter and anger, but always joy.
And he was, by the way, famously stylish – devoted to crisp shirts and V-neck jumpers in a way that is familiar to anyone who has spent time in the country.
He wrote a book about the difference between football in Italy and England and gave the proceeds to charity.
He lived with cancer and faced its brutal swings between fear, pain, optimism and then sadly, the final triumph of the disease over him.
And he did so with a combination of openness and tenacity that we can all hope to emulate.
He worked with the national team until just before Christmas before deciding he needed to stop.
The kind of person you can’t fail to like.
The kind of footballer that opposition players and fans love. And he left at the age of 58.
For Italy – and for all of us – this is a sad day.
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