Gianluca Vialli stood alone in the centre circle of Wembley Stadium just over an hour before Italy’s European Championship final against England. There was a brief respite before the oncoming storm. A pause for thought.
It had been an incredible journey to get here.
Vialli had a long history with this location. Vialli had lost the 1992 European Cup final in extra time with Sampdoria in the old stadium before returning to win the FA Cup twice, the League Cup, and the Charity Shield for Chelsea.
He returned to official football roles after a two-decade absence.
Vialli was at Wembley Stadium, just a few miles from his home in London, where he had lived since his Chelsea days, to assist an old friend and his countrymen in creating another piece of history at the national stadium.
Roberto Mancini, the man Vialli described as his hero since the age of 14, his ‘brother,’ and his Sampdoria strike partner from that crushing European Cup defeat to Barcelona 29 years before, had invited him to take on a leadership role with the team. To serve as a mentor to both players and staff, to bring his energy and enthusiasm to camp, and to inspire the next generation.
Vialli agreed. It was an opportunity to not only support his “Goal Twin,” as he and Mancini were dubbed during their Sampdoria days, but also to begin a new chapter in his life.
Vialli revealed in 2018 that he was battling pancreatic cancer. He was given the all-clear a little more than a year before the 2021 Wembley final; his return to football and work with Italy served as a distraction from the disease that had weakened him.
There was a lot to think about during those quiet moments by the centre spot.
He was back on the turf four hours later, this time in wild celebration.
Italy eventually won in a penalty shoot-out after an exhausting duel.
Vialli, who always wears his heart on his sleeve, couldn’t stand it any longer. He’d stood apart from the Italy team, facing away from the goal, a bundle of nerves.
Relief, joy, and elation were all present when the victory was confirmed and he embraced Mancini, overcome with emotion.
Another significant Wembley moment in his life. Another magnificent accomplishment in his illustrious career.
It would be his final major triumph in football.