Rudzki: “There’s still so much to do.” Gianluca Vialli and the broken heart of Italy
It was his fight. He knew, sensed that it might be lost. In other words, the probability of winning was extremely low. But he wanted to try. On its own terms, without making this story a tearful soap opera. “He wanted to deal with it in a way that didn’t burden other people,” Graeme Souness told Sky Sports before his interview was cut short when the Scot burst into tears on air. Gianluca Vialli passed away much too soon, he was 58 years old. Not only Souness fell apart, not only Italy drowned in a sea of tears. The world of football can’t believe this has happened and is also crying. Luca, as his relatives called him, left many friends in every place he appeared during his life and football career, because he was a fantastic – this is emphasized by absolutely everyone who knew him – a man. And that’s how they’ll remember him.
“I’m not battling cancer because I wouldn’t be able to win, it’s a much stronger opponent than me. Cancer is an unwanted travel companion. I can not do anything about it. He got on the train with me and I have to go on like this, with my head down, but hoping that one day he will get tired and let me live peacefully for many more years, because there are still a lot of things to do, “he said in an interview he gave a year ago.
“Unwanted companion”. When he was alive, he avoided them like the plague. He loved positive people, he loved spending time with them, most often at dinners that lasted late into the night. Wherever he went, he wanted to acclimate, to blend in, to be one of the locals.
Dennis Wise said that when Vialli came to Chelsea, and it was just the beginning of the expansion of foreign players to the British Isles, he immediately started learning the language and took home a Cockney slang dictionary created by the English, or rather Londoners.
Vialli didn’t want to talk like an average Italian in London, he wanted to communicate with proper expression, as befits an Italian, but on local terms. So he learned idioms, vocabulary, and street language. He blended into the social fabric of the Thames.
Coming to Chelsea, he probably did not expect that his heart would beat for the capital of England many years after the end of his career, first as a footballer, and then as a manager. It will be there until the last moments of his life.
Those were the colorful 1990s and the approaching new century. The Blues wanted to play like the great AC Milan, or earlier the Dutch national team, so the mission of building the team was entrusted to Gullit. And although Vialli, a former Juventus player with whom he reached the European Cup, seemed to be the perfect candidate for the cosmopolitan concoction, relations with the Dutch manager were not good. Vialli was right to feel frustrated at being on the bench so much, and it wasn’t until Gullit’s departure that he was able to breathe deeply in London.
Luca took over as a player-manager, led the team to victory in the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup, the League Cup and the European Super Cup, beating Real Madrid.
Vialli was a young coach and the world lay at his feet. Having won the PZP final in 1998, he was just before his 34th birthday. He then set a record, broken by Andre Villas-Boas only thirteen years later.
His experience with Chelsea was bittersweet. On the one hand, he won five trophies in less than three years, on the other hand, he left the club in conflict with a few stars, including compatriot Gianfranco Zola and the current head coach of the French national team Didier Deschamps.
He didn’t have to be a footballer. If you are born the son of a millionaire, grow up in the beautiful Castello di Belgioioso, where the family has sixty rooms at their disposal, you really can spend your life in a different way. But football gave him something that no amount of money could offer, let alone the fact that football made his own millions. Respect, fame, adoration of the crowds.
When four years ago the news that he had overcome pancreatic cancer came to light, his friends breathed a sigh of relief. Among them was Roberto Mancini, who was called Vialli’s “brother from another mother” for years. That several-year battle with a cruel opponent had a temporary happy ending in 2020. The body was clean. No sign of “unwanted traveling companion”.
A year and a half later, the enemy sneaked in for the second time. This time he didn’t want to let go. The previous fight had been hard, devastating, and Luca couldn’t handle the next one. He died at the Royal Marsden Hospital in London, the same hospital where doctors had been helping him face the destructive power of cancer for many years.
Let’s remember the incredible joy in his eyes from his life. The same ones that he covered with sunglasses in difficult moments of fighting the disease. Like a few years ago, when together with Andrzej Twarowski we met him at Stamford Bridge. The game was about to start in a few minutes, we were sitting in our commentary booth with Luca walking behind us. Andrzej stopped him with a sentence, the Italian smiled from ear to ear and was already posing for a photo. He didn’t have an ounce of star manners.
Let’s remember him for his beautiful goals. And from the characteristic wristband he had on his hand as a footballer.
Let’s remember him from the beautiful scenes after the EURO final won by the Italians, when they hug Mancini.
Let’s remember him for not being ashamed of his illness. He fought with dignity until the very end.
As Italian journalist Alvise Cagnazzo wrote: “Vialli would not want any tears at the funeral and would be angry to see them on the cheeks of his fans. He always smiled, he always hid the pain and melancholy of battling his illness, because for him life was a constant dance between a football match and a good dinner.
That’s true. Whether in Italy or London, where his life came to an end, Gianluca Vialli loved people above all else. In a rather ironic way, he referred to the statements that he had become a sex symbol for Italian women, in terms of parties, he chose home parties with karaoke, wine and smoking, inviting his teammates there. And when his Juventus teammate Andrea Fortunato contracted a rare form of leukemia, Vialli shaved his head in solidarity with him. That battle lasted much shorter than his. Just a year. Perhaps that’s why Luca knew that each day was the most important.
PRZEMYSŁAW RUDZKI (CANAL+/SPORTS CHANNEL)
MORE TEXTS BY PRZEMYSŁAW RUDZKI:
#Rudzki #Gianluca #Vialli #broken #heart #Italy