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90s Hitmen: Football Italia legend, Gianluca Vialli

Wherever Gianluca Vialli took his goalscoring gifts, he most certainly left a lasting impression.

From forming part of Sampdoria’s greatest era, to European conquests with Juventus, and starring in a cult Chelsea side of the late decade, Vialli was an unmissable footballing presence during the nineties.

Born into wealth as the son of a self-made millionaire, Vialli’s talents were initially spotted aged nine. He began in the ranks of local amateur side AS Pizzighettone, before attracting the attention of Serie C’s Cremonese.

Beginning his venture in the lower tiers, Vialli was afforded a faster route to first-team football and made his senior debut for the side at 16. After racking up over a century of appearances and forming part of the team that won promotion from the third tier to Serie A, interest arrived in a forward making waves in the lower leagues.


Sampdoria secured Vialli’s signing in 1984, a deal that proved one of the club’s shrewdest ever investments.

Vialli wasted little time in proving he belonged at the highest level despite struggling for a regular starting role, scoring nine goals in all competitions during his debut season and striking up an encouraging understanding with fellow prospect Roberto Mancini.

Together, the two would later fire Sampdoria to their greatest successes.

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I Blucerchiati finished fourth during Vialli’s maiden campaign – their highest league finish in more than two decades – whilst an emerging team secured silverware with a Coppa Italia triumph – beating AC Milan to seal the club’s first major honour.

The arrival of Vujadin Boškov as manager in 1986 accelerated Sampdoria’s rise, with Vialli becoming an increasingly influential player in a team beginning to gain belief.

Vialli was a complete forward, one who married technical talent with aggression and tenacity, whilst he developed a welcome habit of big-game goals and producing extraordinary acrobatic efforts.

More than just his potency and goals, however, his persona made him a leader of Sampdoria’s rapidly emerging side as further Coppa Italia successes followed in 1988 and 1989, with Vialli scoring in each final.

The latter of those campaigns saw Villa hit 33 goals across all competitions, including five in Europe as Sampdoria reached the Cup Winners’ Cup final. Beaten by Barcelona, they returned to the final the following season and added the first ever continental silverware to the club’s rapidly increasing cabinet.

Vialli was the hero of the final after scoring twice in extra-time against Anderlecht, his first an ugly scrambled effort from a rebound, before heading home Mancini’s inviting cross from point-blank range.

Sampdoria were Cup Winners’ Cup champions, but the best was still to come.

As the early nineties began Serie A stood alone as the greatest domestic competition in world football, and in the first full campaign of the decade it was Sampdoria who rose to the top of the pile.

Not before or since in the club’s 75-year history have l Doria been crowned champions of Italy, but with Vialli in their ranks – leading from the front both literally and figuratively – Sampdoria claimed the 1991 Scudetto.

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Vialli’s role in their triumph should not be understated, but it was not the fast start the forward will have envisaged, failing to score across the opening seven games of the season.

His first came against Pisa in November, before a brace in the following fixture saw Diego Maradona and defending champions Napoli thrashed on their own turf.

Vialli continued to fire, scoring twice against an Inter Milan side boasting German World Cup winners Jürgen Klinsmann, Lothar Matthäus and Andreas Brehme, before netting crucial penalties in wins against AC Milan and Juventus.

Sampdoria’s progression had made their stunning success less fairytale than it may have been, but their coronation as champions was still a romantic ruffling of Serie A’s biggest feathers.

They lost just three games all season and finished as the division’s most prolific side, with Vialli winning the Capocannoniere as the league’s leading scorer with 19 goals.

He was menacing and ruthless at the forefront of their success, making up for a disappointing tournament for Italy at the 1990 World Cup and working in tantalising tandem with Mancini.

Vialli remained with Sampdoria for just one further season, scoring 20 goals in all competitions as the Italian champions reached the European Cup final. Johan Cruyff’s Barcelona Dream Team ended hopes of a continental coronation, before Juventus broke the bank to prise the forward from their divisional rivals.

Arriving in Turin for a world-record fee of £12.5m, expectations were high.

Having added Vialli to a forward line already containing Roberto Baggio, alongside the signings of Andreas Möller and David Platt, Juventus were searching to end a six-year wait for the Scudetto.

Both the club and Vialli began the season indifferently, however, with their record arrival failing to hit the ground running.

He scored in the wins over Atalanta and Napoli, but failed to reach the levels shown at Sampdoria and struggled to escape the shadow of the brilliant Baggio.

Vialli finished his maiden season with just six league goals as Juventus finished a disappointing fourth, though some solace was found following UEFA Cup success as Borussia Dortmund were thrashed 6-1 over two legs in the final.

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The record arrival failed to net during those two encounters, however, having scored five times during the Bianconeri’s progression to the showpiece.

His fortunes worsened the following season with just four goals from 12 appearances, the emergence of Alessandro del Piero further complicating the position of Vialli, who dropped deeper to accommodate the rising star.

Vialli’s first goal of the season did not come until scoring a hat-trick against Lazio in April, before netting the winner on the final day of the season as Juventus finished as runners-up to AC Milan.

With his Juventus career in danger of drifting away, the summer of 1994 proved pivotal to Vialli’s resurgence.

Marcello Lippi’s arrival as manager presented a fresh start with Vialli having failed to find his form under predecessor Giovanni Trapattoni, the incoming coach immediately informing the forward that his fitness levels must improve.

Embarking on a gruelling regime across the summer months, Vialli returned a different player and formed a central part of a Juventus team rising rapidly under the new head coach.

He scored 17 league goals to finish as the Bianconeri’s leading scorer in Serie A, including decisive late strikes against Brescia and Sampdoria as Juventus powered to a first league title in nine years.

Juventus beat Parma in the Coppa Italia to make it a domestic double, though saw hopes of a treble ended by the same opposition in the UEFA Cup final, despite Vialli opening the scoring in the second leg.

Juventus were unable to retain the title the following season as Milan reclaimed the Scudetto, but Vialli’s final season in Turin still proved one to savour.

Lippi’s side progressed in the Champions League and victories over Real Madrid and Nantes ensured progress to a final meeting with Ajax.

Vialli had been crucial in that run and scored in both legs of the semi-final with Nantes, before leading the side out against the Dutch holders in Rome.

Juventus were underdogs ahead of a tight final that required penalties to separate the sides, with the Italians emerging triumphant in the shoot-out to be crowned champions of Europe for just a second time.

Vialli’s final act as a Juventus player was to hoist aloft club football’s most famous silverware, a crowning moment for a forward who had overcome a testing period to cement his name in club folklore.

The summer of 1996 saw Vialli sign for Chelsea on a free transfer. Whilst the arrival of a global star in west London has become the norm since the turn of the millennium, his arrival at Stamford Bridge – and to the Premier League – was deemed a coup for both the club and a rebranded division still in its infancy.

Ruud Gullit’s arrival and subsequent appointment as player-manager had set the wheels in motion for a new era at Chelsea, one filled with foreign flair as a cosmopolitan cult side was formed.

Vialli was joined by compatriots Gianfranco Zola and Roberto Di Matteo at Chelsea, whilst the likes of Gus Poyet, Dan Petrescu, Frank Lebouef and Marcel Desailly were amongst the names to sign for the Blues during mid-late nineties.

His first season saw the forward score 11 goals across all competitions, including a winner against defending champions Manchester United at Old Trafford and a brace in a 4-2 win over Liverpool in the FA Cup’s fourth round.

Chelsea progressed to the final of the latter competition and ended a 26-year wait for major silverware after beating Middlesbrough at Wembley, though Vialli was restricted to a late cameo as a feud with Gullit saw him fall out of favour.

He responded the next season with a wealth of goals including a sensational four-goal haul against Barnsley, but his fractious relationship with Gullit saw him fail to command a regular role in the side.

However, his situation soon changed in spectacular fashion following Gullit’s sacking in February, with Vialli handed the reins in place of the Dutchman as player-manager.

Success was instant as the Italian guided Chelsea to League Cup and Cup Winners’ Cup success, Middlesbrough again the beaten opponents in the former final, whilst a Gianfranco Zola goal saw off Stuttgart to earn European silverware.

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Vialli finished as the club’s leading scorer with 19 goals in all competitions, whilst further continental success soon arrived after beating European champions Real Madrid 1-0 in the UEFA Super Cup.

Vialli continued to combine his role as head coach and centre-forward, though his on-pitch role reduced as he concentrated on overseeing an emerging side, with Chelsea finishing third in the 1998/99 title race behind Manchester United and Arsenal.

The last appearance of his playing career came on the final day of that campaign, one which saw Vialli score the winner against Derby County at Stamford Bridge to reach a record of 40 goals from just 88 appearances for Chelsea.

As manager, he added another FA Cup in 2000 before falling victim to Chelsea’s carousel of coaches, sacked following an underwhelming start to the following season to bring an end to his career with the club.

Vialli’s voyage into English football had added a fascinating final chapter to a distinguished career of success, one of football’s finest forwards of the nineties and a player whose dedicated drive ensured a rise to the very top.

Read – 90s Hitmen: Romario, a Brazilian goalscoring genius

Read Also – Midfield Magicians: The ‘Czech Fury’ Pavel Nedved

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