The millionaire from Cremona was one of the most spectacular and gifted strikers of the last 20 years – known more for the breath-taking quality of his goals than the quantity. While the stats may tell the story of a less than prolific forward, in reality, Gianluca Vialli could put the opposition to the sword from any angle, at any moment – a genuine danger man who often made the very best defenders in Serie A look like spaghetti-legged amateurs.
Legend has it that as a youngster, the independently wealthy Vialli once had special soft grass imported to his spacious estate, so that he could practice extravagant volleys without injuring himself. Apocryphal or otherwise, Vialli perfected the art of the “Hollywood finish”, netting scores of stunning first-time hits throughout his illustrious, though arguably somewhat unfulfilled career.
After scoring ten goals with his hometown team Cremona in 1984, Vialli secured a move to Genovese giants Sampdoria. At the Blucerchiati, Vialli would truly blossom, from an impressive if unwieldy, upstart, to one of the premier strikers in a league already blessed with stellar goal scoring talent. Forming an incredible, near telepathic partnership with Roberto Mancini (who had been at the club for just two seasons), Vialli was afforded the kind of development uncommon nowadays. Scoring just three goals in his first season, and only six in his second – it wasn’t until the 1986/87 campaign that Vialli and Mancini bagged prolifically enough to rightfully earn their catchy nickname of “The Goal Twins”.
Something special was building, and Coppa Italia wins in 1985, 1987 1989, along with improving results in the league, fed confidence into a very impressive team that included such industrious players as Toninho Cerezo, Pietro Vierchowod and Attilio Lombardo. This free-flowing, attractive outfit – especially under the guidance of visionary Serbian Coach Vujadin Boskov, were a captivating spectacle to behold. Practical enough to hold out against the superstar teams of the North and free-scoring enough to blitz the rest of the league. They were arguably the best ever incarnation of Sampdoria and Vialli was at the very heart of the team, slamming in his trademark volleys within a perfectly functioning unit. But the best was yet to come.
On the back of a hard-fought but well-deserved Cup-Winners Cup triumph, Vialli and Mancini’s efforts came to true fruition in their now legendary 1990/91 season. Unthinkable just a few years before, Samp were title contenders, assisted no end by The Goal Twins and, in particular, by Vialli’s best ever tally in a single Serie A season. They stormed to success, finishing five points clear of second placed Milan and, importantly, 11 ahead of city-rivals Genoa. In that incredible season, inspired by man-on-fire Vialli, they beat Juventus, Inter, Milan and Napoli with consummate ease. His stunning array of goals and his spectacular head of hair made him a Blucerchiati legend – here are all 19 of his goals from that breath-taking Scudetto winning season:-
In the air, on the ground, on the volley, from the penalty spot – Vialli was a true all-rounder who, despite his considerable size and power, had a gift for beating defenders over the distance that mattered. In a 20-yard dash, he found the acceleration he needed to finish emphatically, with the kind of accuracy and power that crushed all the hope from opposition fans’ hearts. In 1991/92, Sampdoria were at the very crest of their success and lost the European Cup final in extra time to a superb Barcelona side. This was no disgrace and for 100 minutes Vialli showcased his muscular qualities before the world, coming close on a number of occasions to bursting the net.
To the disappointment of a nation, Vialli’s international career never really left the ground – despite the significant number of caps he secured within a relatively short period. Unfortunately, his days with the Azzurri coincided with one of their leanest periods and from 1985-92 he wracked up 59 caps with just 16 goals. It was in Italia 90 that he was expected to make an enormous impact, but Coach Azeglio Vicini was probably right to ultimately opt for the emerging genius Roberto Baggio and the inspired Toto Schillachi. He was effectively retired as an international footballer in 1992 by a stubborn minded Arrigo Sacchi, who seemed to view the Sampdoria player as workman-like. On leaving the Azzurri behind, he commented, with customary good humour that he would be supporting Brazil in future tournaments. Thinking back, how Italy could have used Vialli in 1994 (to take some pressure from Baggio’s shoulders and in 1996 – to actually score some goals!).
Although never a favourite of national bosses, Juventus certainly were not blind to the genuine class of Vialli and in 1992 shelled out a then world record fee of £12.5 million, teaming him up with Roberto Baggio, Andreas Moller and a young Fabrizio Ravanelli. Things started exceptionally well for the man from Cremona – in his very first season he netted 17 goals and won the UEFA Cup beating Borussia Dortmund in the final. That year, le Zebre also reclaimed the Scudetto and Vialli’s dynamic partnership with Baggio looked as if it would bring great success. In Baggio, as in Mancini, he found not only a genius with unerring vision, but also a perfect foil who could read the runs of his partner with uncanny regularity. And for proof of Vialli’s much-touted acrobatic ability while at the Bianconeri, this goal against Cremonese serves well: –
However, this golden period was unexpectedly short-lived for Vialli. Milan reclaimed the title in his second season and the Bianconeri also lost the UEFA Cup final to a Gianfranco Zola inspired Parma. In that game Vialli scored a marvelous goal and that spectacular, opportunistic volley sums up everything great about the Italian. He may not always have popped up in the box to stab home the kind of loose ball that’s the lifeblood of strikers like Filippo Inzaghi, but if there was a speculative ball played into the box, you could bet your life that Vialli would be ghosting in, licking his lips, steadying himself to hit it at full pelt.
On reflection, it seems as if Juventus sold Vialli at just the right time. In fact, they would sell an incredible array of striking talent in the 1990s and 2000s at the opportune moment – beginning with Roberto Baggio, then Vialli, then Ravanelli, and later Christian Vieri, with others such as Thierry Henry and Fabrizio Miccoli also pulling on and pulling off the illustrious black and white striped shirt in short order. Aside from Baggio, Vialli was the best of this prestigious bunch, chopping home eight scissor kicks in that first season alone, giving Marcello Lippi’s side a much needed sense of sparkle to their all important final product.
It seems a pity that the great Italian, in the twilight of his career, should have wasted some of his most meaningful years at a Chelsea team largely unappreciative of his considerable skills. Still, its best not to remember the west London version of the man – caught smoking on the bench on more than one occasion – and instead think back to the raging bull who in his prime tore through countless defences and left so many goalkeepers in a daze. Right now all the top teams in Serie A would offer a massive amount of money for an Italian thoroughbred striker of Vialli’s pure quality and class.
Past Lessons in Calcio