“Typical footballer.” It is a phrase most of us have uttered, usually after listening to an incoherent post-match interview or reading about the latest moronic escapade from Wayne Rooney or John Terry. Drunken brawls, tacky cars and extra-marital affairs all elicit that response, with the mindless behaviour or a newly rich star drawing the ire of the supporters who flock to watch them.
It is an accusation that could never be levelled at Gianluca Vialli, the former Sampdoria, Juventus and Chelsea striker’s life standing in stark contrast to many of his peers. The son of a self-made millionaire, the Italy international was brought up with his four siblings in the stunning Castello di Belgioioso in Cremona.
With sixty rooms, it is the kind of childhood that eschews the usual “rags-to-riches” tales of football players that have become so familiar, but it is one that ensured Vialli was a very different character throughout his career.
On the pitch, he was a hard-working forward with a thunderous shot and a penchant for dispatching some of the most well-struck volleys, headers and overhead kicks ever seen. Alongside Roberto Mancini he helped Sampdoria to win the 1990/91 league title before joining Juventus for a then-World record fee of £12 million.
There he would add UEFA Cup and Champions League winner’s medals to his collection, the latter came in his final game for the Bianconeri as he moved to Chelsea in the summer of 1996. Quickly becoming player-manager at Stamford Bridge, he steered them to FA Cup, League Cup, Cup Winners’ Cup and UEFA Super Cup triumphs in a two-year stint.
Vialli then had a brief and instantly forgettable stint at Watford before moving into television punditry, offering insightful analysis into matches while showing a sense of humour that opponents had never seen during matches.
Used to defying conventions, he popped up again last month after giving a lengthy interview to the Corriere della Sera newspaper in which he revealed he had been battling cancer. “I’m fine now, very well indeed,” he said. “It’s been a year and I’m back to having a beastly physique, although I still have no certainty of how this match will end. I used to wear a sweater under my shirt so no-one noticed anything. I was still the person everyone knew.”
Yet rather than bemoan his luck or complain about the difficulties he had faced, Vialli discussed a book he was writing and looked immediately at how his experiences could be used to benefit other people.
“I hope mine is a book to keep on the bedside table so people can read one or two stories before falling asleep or in the morning as soon as they wake up,” he continued. “The important thing isn’t winning; it’s thinking like a winner. Life is made up of 10 percent for what happens to us and 90 percent for how we deal with it.
Few stories are like his but while he might not be a “typical footballer,” the truth is Gianluca Vialli is simply a man living his life and coping with reality. Just like the rest of us.