Roberto Mancini is grieving the loss of a man he considered his brother after Gianluca Vialli’s death following a long battle with pancreatic cancer.
Vialli passed away at the age of 58 in London on Friday, devastating Italy coach Mancini who was his best friend and long-time strike partner in their playing days at Sampdoria in the 1980s and 90s.
The former Italy forward’s death came less than a month after another of Mancini’s friends Sinisa Mihajlovic succumbed to leukemia.
“Only a few days after Sinisa passing away I’ve lost another brother, or little brother as I liked to call him,” the Corriere Dello Sport quoted him as saying on Saturday.
“We met at 16 years old and never left each others side: Italy’s youth and senior teams, Samp, the highs, the lows, the victories and the defeats.”
In eight years together at Sampdoria, Mancini and Vialli won the club’s only Serie A title in 1991, the previous year’s Cup Winner’s Cup and three Italian Cups.
They also came to within a hair’s breadth of winning the European Cup in 1992, being narrowly beaten at Wembley by Johan Cruyff’s Barcelona ‘Dream Team’.
The duo, nicknamed “the goal twins” during their Sampdoria days, were reunited in the Italy set-up when Vialli was made chief of the national team delegation in 2019, with Mancini already head coach.
Their tearful embrace after winning Euro 2020 at the same ground where they tasted bitter defeat to Barca became one of the iconic moments of Italy’s emotional triumph.
“Those two nights at Wembley. Many years ago we cried with pain and bitterness, and then we cried with joy as though we were united by destiny before he passed away,” Mancini added.
“He played a key role in us winning the European Championship. The players loved him,” said Mancini.
“Gianluca gave us courage that we didn’t know and which he used to fight his illness so hard that he managed to be with us (the team) as long as he possibly could.
“Gianluca was the best of us, a perfect, courageous man… It was a privilege to be his friend, his teammate in football and life.”