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Gianluca Vialli, “We Love You”

Friday 6th January 2023, the news we all dreaded was confirmed. Gianluca Vialli passed away after his long battle with pancreatic cancer. He will be missed and will forever be a Chelsea legend. The tributes to him really reminded so many that not only was he a great player and manager he was also a wonderful man.

Gianluca was Ruud Gullit’s first Chelsea signing in the summer of 1996. A free transfer from Juventus and he was instantly given the number nine shirt.

Vialli display of words and pictures on the Shed Wall at Stamford Bridge
The Shed Wall at Stamford Bridge

Despite coming to the end of his career it was a huge signing for Chelsea. Luca had already won so much in the game including many domestic trophies in Italy and the Champions League in 1996 with Juventus.

Luca first made an appearance in the pre season Umbro International Tournament in Nottingham, Chelsea were victorious beating Ajax in the final. Chelsea’s first home game of the season saw Middlesbrough visit Stamford Bridge. All the talk before the game was Vialli facing his former teammate Fabrizio Ravanelli. Ironically it was fellow Italian Roberto Di Matteo who scored the late winner. Next up was Coventry at home which saw Luca score his first goal in Chelsea blue. Going by his celebration he clearly enjoyed it as did the Stamford Bridge faithful, he was instantly a Chelsea favourite.

The goals were coming for Luca and I remember going to the Everton league game in the December. My dad had a dinner dance for his company and it was an overnight stay. He deliberately booked a hotel near to Stamford Bridge so we could go to the game. As we checked in I looked over and saw a smart looking man with sunglasses on (it was December!). I quickly realised it was Gianluca Vialli. We spoke with him briefly before getting his autograph. He was staying there until a house was sorted for him. We went to the match with Chelsea drawing the game 2-2 with Luca scoring the equaliser.

Page from Chelsea programme with match ticket and Vialli autograph
A time before selfies, meeting Gianluca

After the game we bought a Chelsea shirt with ‘Vialli 9’ on the reverse and asked a receptionist if they could get him to sign it. In the morning after breakfast the receptionist found us and gave us the signed shirt from Luca. To say I was buzzing was an understatement.

By this point Ruud had added fellow Italian Gianfranco Zola to the squad. Luca found it hard to get in the team as Zola had formed a great partnership with Mark Hughes. Luca remained professional and always gave everything when given the opportunity. The fans adored him! As Dennis Wise revealed on his vest, “Cheer up Luca, we love you xx”.

Shortly after the tragic death of vice chairman Matthew Harding we beat Spurs and then famously won 2-1 at Old Trafford. A wonderful goal from Luca who played the ball through the legs of the outrushing Peter Schmeichel after a delightful ball from Frank Leboeuf. The 4-2 comeback win against Liverpool in the F.A Cup 4th Round will always live long in the memory of Chelsea supporters with Vialli grabbing two. If you weren’t lucky enough to be there the BBC commentary from John Motson still sends shivers down your spine. It was at that point many of us felt it could be Chelsea’s year. It most certainly was as Chelsea went on to lift the F.A Cup. A fantastic day and cup run which Luca was most certainly part of.

Newspaper cutting covering scrapbook of the 1996/7 FA Cup
My scrapbook covering the 1996/97 FA Cup

At the start of the 1997/98 season Luca got back in the team more regularly and he didn’t do his chances any harm when scoring four at Barnsley in a 6-0 win in late August. The goals kept on coming scoring away to Slovan Bratislava (off his bum!) and two vital late goals away to Tromso in the snow. There was a hat trick at home to Tromso in a 7-1 demolition in the return leg. More goals followed and by February Chelsea were sitting second in the Premier League, League Cup Semi Final and in the Quarter Final of the Cup Winners Cup. To the amazement of world football Ruud Gullit was sensationally sacked by then chairman Ken Bates, I remember everyone being in disbelief. There was a dispute over a new contract which left us all very disappointed. The club didn’t dwell on this and the fans had to move on quickly to. Luca was quickly named player manager!

His first game in charge saw Chelsea take on Arsenal in the League Cup Semi Final Second Leg at Stamford Bridge. Trailing 2-1 from the first leg, it was always going to be an uphill battle. Chelsea won the game 3-1 (4-3 on agg) on the night in a simply fantastic evening at the Bridge. It was revealed later that Luca and the players had a toast of champagne before the game in the dressing room. Luca had already got us to a Wembley cup final after only being in charge for a matter of days. A wonderful day at Wembley saw Chelsea lift the League Cup against Middlesbrough and go to win the Cup Winners Cup against Stuttgart in Stockholm. A fantastic end to the season with Luca lifting two trophies!

Viialli No 9 Shirt

The 1998/99 season started with another trophy after beating Real Madrid 1-0 in the Super Cup Final in Monaco. A 4-1 league cup win at home to Aston Villa saw Luca score a hat trick and give a debut to a very young John Terry. More goals were coming for Luca and most notably in the cup competitions. Two in a 5-0 league cup win at Arsenal and two at Oldham in the F.A Cup are often remembered. A great season that saw Chelsea lose just three Premier League games and finish only four points behind winners Manchester United. It was Chelsea’s highest league finish since 1970. Injuries to Casiraghi, Poyet and Flo and the departure of Brian Laudrup certainly made a detrimental impact to our season. Luca retired from football at the end the 1998/99 season to focus fully on being manager. He made his last professional appearance in the final game of the season scoring the winner against Derby County at Stamford Bridge.

The 1999/00 season saw Chelsea enter the Champions League for the very first time due to our third place finish the season before. Luca led us to the Quarter Final stage only to be beaten in extra time by Spanish giants Barcelona. A great campaign that gave us memorable nights against AC Milan, Galatasaray, Lazio, Feyenoord and Barcelona. Luca also led us to another Final, this time defeating Aston Villa to win the F.A Cup in the last final at the ‘old’ Wembley.

In August 2000 silverware was gained quickly in the form of the Charity Shield at Wembley against Manchester United. Unfortunately results didn’t go our way at the start of the season and Luca was sacked September 12th.

Chelsea Appearances: 88

Chelsea Goals: 40

Chelsea Honours:

F.A Cup 1997 – player

League Cup 1998 – player/manager

European Cup Winners Cup 1998 – player/manager

UEFA Super Cup 1998 – player/manager

F.A Cup 2000 – manager

Charity Shield 2000 – manager

In May 2018 Luca was welcomed back to Stamford Bridge when he managed a Chelsea legends team at Stamford Bridge against Inter Forever in memory of legend Ray Wilkins. A wonderful event and it was great to see him back in the dug out.

Vialli holds copy of book 'Blue Days' in 2020
Gianluca with a copy of ‘BLUE DAYS’ in 2020

In 2020 I managed to contact Gianluca when my book ‘BLUE DAYS’ was released and I sent him a copy. His reply was something I never expected. He sent me a signed shirt wishing me luck and a picture of him with it.

The first game back at Stamford Bridge after Gianluca had passed was against Crystal Palace. Wonderful tributes throughout the day took place with ex teammates returning. A very emotional day.

The trophies you won, the double in the 4-2 comeback against Liverpool, hitting the back of the Old Trafford net, gliding through the snow in Tromso, the ball coming your backside in Bratislava to scoring four at Barnsley.

Thank you Gianluca, you have given us memories to last a lifetime. RIP. X

Chris Wright (@chriswrightzz), season ticket holder since 1997/98 and following Chelsea since 1989.

Chris looks back on all things Chelsea in the form of ‘Chelsea Rewind’ on Twitter(X) and Instagram. You can also find his books ‘BLUE DAYS’ and ‘END OF AN ERA’ on Amazon, or the cfcuk stall on a match day.

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1 comentário

Jay Smith
Jay Smith
08 de set. de 2023

Thanks Chris - brought back lovely memories

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