Paul Elliott will arrive at Wembley tonight with sadness in his heart.
‘I first met Gianluca Vialli in Italy, when I played in Serie A with Pisa,’ recalled Elliott, who became the first black British defender to play in Italy’s top-flight.
‘He was a class act then. We had some good battles on the pitch in Italy.
‘I then met him again a few years later at Chelsea, he was with Roberto Mancini at the time.
‘He was such a warm individual. He dressed well, spoke great English – he was student of human relations.
England vs Italy at Wembley will not be the same without Gianluca Vialli, who had many iconic moments at the ground with Chelsea and his country
Paul Elliott, who played in Serie A, says there will be a ‘tinge of sadness’ without Vialli
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‘A great guy. Humble and very emotionally intelligent, an absolute gentleman.
‘We’re all looking forward the game against Italy, but there will be a tinge of sadness because Gianluca can’t be with us.
‘He’d have been in his element tonight. He loved Italy, but he loved London – he felt so at home here that he relocated. He’d have relished tonight – we will miss him.’
Vialli’s death in January following a battle against pancreatic cancer shook football to its core.
Elliott’s recollections of Vialli the man are universally held – regardless of allegiances and loyalties, you’d be hard-pushed to find anyone with a negative word to say about the Italian.
Yet on the pitch he was fiercely competitive – and Elliott was on the receiving end of his brilliant talents.
Vialli, a legendary forward, passed away aged 58 in January this year after a battle with cancer
He won the FA Cup with Chelsea in 2000 as a manager, three years after winning it as a player
‘Unquestionably, a world class striker. It was the relationship and partnership with Mancini when they were at Sampdoria,’ said Elliott.
‘In my opinion there were three great partnerships in the world football at the time – Marco van Basten and Ruud Gullit at AC Milan; [Diego] Maradona and Careca at Napoli and Mancini and Vialli at Sampdoria.
‘Mancini and Vialli were as good as anything in the world. Technically Vialli was so good. Good touch, good technique and he could link the play.
‘But for me it was his willingness to run, even with all that natural ability.
‘Gianluca was born into wealth and could have run the family business – but he wanted to play football. That’s a measure of the man’s professionalism.’
Vialli will forever be intertwined in Wembley folklore. In 1997 he came on as a substitute in Chelsea’s 2-0 FA Cup final win over Middlesbrough.
Three years later, he won the tournament again – this time as a manager – as Chelsea beat Aston Villa in 2000.
And then, of course, came Euro 2020; Vialli, part of then head coach Mancini’s backroom team, helped Italy to European Championship glory with a penalty shootout win over England in the final.
That night at Wembley provided a rare bright spot for Italian football during a largely disappointing spell which has seen the national team fail to qualify for the previous two World Cups.
He was delegation chief in 2021 when Roberto Mancini’s Italy beat England on penalties to win the European Championships at Wembley
While Serie A has arguably declined since Vialli’s day, it is a popular destination to get game time for English players such as Fikayo Tomori
Italian football’s fall from grace is a far cry from when Elliott joined Pisa in 1987.
Serie A was widely viewed as the world’s best division during and the national team boasted icons like Franco Baresi, Carlo Ancelotti, Paolo Maldini and – of course – Vialli.
A lack of investment and the emergence of the Premier League are viewed as two of the key factors behind Italian football’s perceived demise.
But Elliott is adamant Serie A still has plenty to offer, insisting England players Fikayo Tomori, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Tammy Abraham will one day return as better all-round players.
‘When I played there it was deemed as the best league in the world but it has lost its way,’ said Elliott, who act as an advisor to the Football Association.
‘There’s been societal challenges in Italy. There’s no secret there’s been challenges with racism in Italy. I was racially abused in Italy but it was the same in the UK for black players in the 80s-90s – and when I went to Scotland with Celtic.
‘It’s one of the biggest challenges of their society – but it has never stopped clubs wanting to recruit players of all races from all over the world. The challenges come from a minority.
‘But a lot of English players have been attracted to Italy for game time which is a really massive plus.
‘They will improve in Italy. You can see the difference in their games – particularly Abraham and Tomori.
‘My game improved so much in Italy. Tactically, being in possession, my concentration. That’s where the biggest plus will be for those boys.’
Source From: Serie A News, Fixtures and Results | Mail Online
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