Gianluca Vialli brought tears to my eyes.
And don’t get me wrong: this wasn’t my first rodeo.
Between the World Cup, Champions League, and Europa League finals, as well as playoffs, domestic cup finals, the European Championship, and Copa America finals…
In a professional capacity, I’m far past 60 years old.
When you have the opportunity to do what I do for a livelihood, you strive to maintain a professional demeanor as much as possible, putting emotion aside.
It’s not always easy, especially when you care about the game and the people that play it, when you watch the emotional journey of hundreds of millions of people around the world, and when you recognize that it’s one of humanity’s common threads.
Well, there have been moments when I’ve become emotional after a game.
Nevertheless, never before the occasion.
That is, until Sunday night at Wembley Stadium.
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Get fast access It’s normal for players and coaches to walk around the pitch an hour and a half before kickoff to get a sense of their surroundings and take in the occasion.
Prior to the Euro 2020 final versus England, the majority of the Italian team and coaches did just that.
One man remained alone in the middle of the pitch, standing upright and allowing his gaze to wander over what he saw.
It was a man I’ve known for 25 years who lives just minutes away from me in London.
It was Luca who did it.
I snapped a photo of Vialli on the lush Wembley lawn, who appeared both small and enormous.
Perhaps because I was enthralled and welling up from the Wembley press box, I didn’t ask him what went through his mind in those minutes that felt like hours.
I’m not going to ask him either.
Allow it to be a private time, despite the fact that many have speculated.
Maybe it had something to do with the fact that Italy and England, the two countries he has called home for over half of his life, were in a European final.
Perhaps it was the fact that Roberto Mancini, his closest football friend and “goal twin” from his Sampdoria days 37 years ago, had asked him to join the national team in November 2019, and the two of them had once again reached the final obstacle together.
(The official job title was “head of delegation,” but it was more like consigliere, road trip companion, and — the rehabilitated extrovert Vialli balancing out the functioning introvert Mancini — one man’s yin to another’s yang.)
Perhaps it was because the last time he and Mancini played in the same colors at Wembley was in the 1992 European Cup final against Johan Cruyff’s “Dream Team” of a Barcelona side.
White jerseys with Samp’s distinctive “circle stripes” were worn back then, while chalk-grey suits are worn now.
It was the “old” Wembley, before the arch and the renovation, but the position and the weight of the air he inhaled were the same.
(The outcome would be different; Vialli and Mancini would win 29 years after being defeated.) Maybe it was the good times at Wembley.
When he was managing Chelsea more than 20 years ago, he won the FA Cup, League Cup, and Community Shield under the old Twin Towers.
Maybe it was the fact that he was back in football after nearly two decades away that reminded him of what he had missed.
He established a family, wrote two books, had a successful career as a TV pundit, and finished his official education over the course of two decades.
Gianluca Vialli’s journey to Euro 2020 triumph is motivational.
Getty Throughout the final five years of his life, Vialli has been joined by “an unwelcome travel companion”: cancer.
That’s how he refers to it.
During his life’s journey, he has a “travel buddy” following him about.
“I don’t see this as a fight,” he writes in “Goals: Inspiring Stories to Help You Face Life’s Challenges,” a book I helped curate and translate.
“I am not a fighter.”
I’m not fighting cancer because it’s a far too powerful foe and I wouldn’t stand a chance against it.
I am a man on a trip, and cancer has decided to accompany me.
“My goal is to keep walking, keep moving until he’s had enough and leaves me alone,” Vialli says. On that voyage, Vialli has undergone chemotherapy treatments that have devastated his body, turning his chiseled athlete’s figure into skin and bones (and his heart, which has never gone away).
It saw him confront death, the end of existence (or, at the very least, this existence), and the consequences for his family and loved ones.
But it also taught him the value of positivism, routine, and switching off, allowing the adrenaline of a high-achiever to give way to the tranquility of someone willing to pause and enjoy “the little elements of everyday life,” which is why he welcomed the call from Mancini and the Italian FA: “It’s easier to filter out the irrational notions if I’m thinking about work.”
I’d add the terrible ones, such as the end of one’s life.
Vialli was conscious of his place in the Italian delegation.
He wasn’t an assistant coach, and he wasn’t going to let his celebrity overshadow or obstruct anyone else’s work.
When Mancini and the players needed him, he was there.
According to some reports, he was the only one Mancini would see on matchday mornings, as part of an old superstitious ritual.
Others claimed Vialli was an integral component of another tradition that Mancini and the team insisted on upholding throughout the tournament: being left behind as if “forgotten” when the team bus took off, only to be welcomed aboard a few feet later.
It’s difficult to maintain a low profile when your name is Gianluca Vialli and you’ve affected so many people.
“I don’t care if he hates me for saying this,” Alessandro Florenzi stated after the final.
“Everyone should be aware of this.”
We have an example at our midst that shows us how to live in any moment, in any circumstance.
And I’m referring to Gianluca Vialli, who is unique to us.
This triumph would be meaningless without him, as well as Mancini and the other coaches.
He is a live example of what is possible.
I know he’ll be offended, but I just had to say it.” I understand Florenzi’s feelings.
When Vialli reads this, he might become irritated with me as well.
Nonetheless, it had to be spoken.
It takes a lot to bring tears to the eyes of someone who has watched as much football as I have before a single ball is kicked.