Remembering Gianluca Vialli | John Ingledew

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Lifelong fan and photographer John Ingledew pays tribute to the Chelsea and Italy football legend with a series of candid photographs shot during his time covering The Blues in late 90s.

Gianluca Vialli, Chelsea FC, John Ingledew
Vialli’s side hustle modelling, Chelsea’s Harlington training ground bar, 1999. © John Ingledew

“He lit up the room” said Ingledew whose pictures captured Vialli as player then manager at The Bridge.

“I don’t think Chelsea fans could believe we’d signed such class,” praised Ingledew.

“He lit up the room, he lit up the fans and he lit up the pitch.”

Gianluca Vialli’s tragic death this week following illness has sent shock waves throughout the world of football, such was Vialli revered wherever he travelled.

He signed for Chelsea in 1996, becoming manager two years later and the tributes have been flooding in. “It’s terrible news,” said Ingledew.

Gianluca Vialli, Chelsea FC, John Ingledew
The boss in Boss. Gianluca Vialli in Hugo Boss. Chelsea 1-0 Newcastle United, Stamford Bridge. September 1999. © John Ingledew
Gianluca Vialli, Chelsea FC, John Ingledew
Vialli and owner Ken Bates salute the home crowd after the last game of the 1999-2000 season. Chelsea 4-0 Derby County, Stamford Bridge. May 2000. © John Ingledew

“The first thing famous footballers say on meeting a press writer and photographer there for an interview used to be almost a cert, ‘how long will this take?’

“We used to stake tenners on it. Never a welcoming and cheery greeting, instead, almost without fail ‘How long will this take?” were the first words. Miserable.   

“Gianluca Vialli was different. I was lucky enough to take his picture on a couple of occasions for magazine features. He had huge charisma, was warm and open and actually seemed to enjoy working with the press. 

“As ex-Blues player Jon Harley said this week ‘he had time for everyone.’ So different.

“I’ve been going to the Bridge for over four decades now. I’ve gone with many of the same chaps for much of that time. Mark, one those Blues, had a son the season Vialli arrived and named him Luca. 

“That seemed great then. It seems wonderful now.”

Gianluca Vialli, Chelsea FC, John Ingledew
In the Chelsea dugout, Gianluca Vialli is the coolest man in the ground as Chelsea score against Manchester United after just twenty-six seconds. Chelsea 5-0 Manchester United, Stamford Bridge. October 1999. © John Ingledew

Born in 1964 in Cremona, Italy, Vialli became a 90s football icon, both in the Premier league and world wide, forming legendary partnerships with Robero Mancini at Sampdoria and Fabrizio Ravanelli at Juventus.

Both have paid their own tributes, as has fellow Chelsea legend, Gianfranco Zola.

Italy head coach Mancini described Vialli as his “little brother” and “a perfect and courageous man”.

The former Chelsea and Italy striker, who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2017, died on Friday and played alongside Mancini for Sampdoria as well as Italy and was part of Mancini’s coaching staff for the Azzurri’s Euro 2020 triumph.

“We met at 16 years old and never left each other’s side,” said Mancini. Together they formed a prolific forward partnership at Sampdoria and were nicknamed ‘the goal twins’.

Vialli was appointed by Mancini to Italy’s backroom staff in October 2019 and their emotional embrace after victory over England in the Euro 2020 final was one of the tournament’s defining images.

Zola and Vialli had similar journeys, often great rivals on the pitch before coming together at Chelsea.

“In the end we were always ourselves,” said Zola. “Two Italian boys and a ball.

“Goodbye Luca.”

Gianluca Vialli, Chelsea FC, John Ingledew
Vialli leads training at Chelsea’s Harlington training ground, 1999. His players include World Cup winners Didier Deschamps and Frank LeBoeff. © John Ingledew

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