Gianluca Vialli: The New Breed of Striker
Chelsea legend Gianluca Vialli was seen as a new breed of striker in Italian football who combined technique and goal scoring ability with speed, athleticism and physical power. Due to his natural ability, he also excelled in the air and became a prolific scorer of acrobatic goals from volleys and bicycle kicks. However, he was also highly regarded for his dedication, leadership qualities, strong mentality and his charismatic influence on the pitch. These transcendental attributes are now perceived as the skills an old fashioned striker needs to galvanize any effective football system.
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Hailed as one of the best and most consistent Italian strikers of his generation, Vialli was the complete, dynamic, and versatile forward who was capable of playing anywhere along the attacking line. However, his preferred position was in the centre as a main stiker, where he could take advantage of his offensive movement and opportunism inside the box.
He was also capable of playing off of and creating chances for his teammates, who were guided by his superb vision, tactical intelligience and distribution.
Vialli's move to Chelsea as a free transfer was certainly the greatest challenge of his career as most players in the Premier League were British at the time. However, he joined fellow Italy internationals Gianfranco Zola and Roberto Di Matteo, who were brought from Parma and Lazio to complete the "Italian Invasion". This is a particularly interesting chaper in the club's history during the definitive years of the Premier League.
Although initially happy with the move to London, the squad could not accomodate the three up front, leading to strained relations with the coach. Vialli even considered a possible move to Crystal Palace or Celtic.
Chelsea eventually won the FA Cup in Vialli's first season, though in a 4-2 comeback over Liverpool in the 4th round. However, due to apparent differences between him and Ruud Gullit, he was regularly left out of the starting line up and was limited to a five-minute appearance as a late substitute due to an imposed "jinxed" presence on the pitch. This did not improve in the 1997-1998 season even though he delivered exceptional performances in the League and the Cup Winners Cup.
However, following Gullit's dismissal in early 1998, Vialli was given the interesting opportunity to be a player-manager. He won the Cup Winners' Cup in 1998 and the League Cup. He then achieved a euphoric 1-0 victory over UEFA Champions League winners Real Madrid in the 1998 UEFA Super Cup.
After Gullit was sacked in February 1998, Chelsea were already in the semi-finals of the League Cup and the quarter-finals of the European Cup Winners' Cup. He then proceeded with winning both competitions as well as finishing fourth in the League. A victory over VfB Stuttgart in the Cup Winners' Cup meant that the 33 years and 308 days-old Vialli became the youngest manager to win the competition. However, in 18 May 2011, Andrea Villas-Boas won the Europa league at the age of 33 years and 213 days.
The following season, Chelsea finished 3rd in the Premier League, just four points behind champions Manchester United, which was the highest league finish since 1970. Chelsea then subsequently became a regular contender for a top four position from this point on.
Vialli had contributed immensely to the current Chelsea brand that we have grown accustomed to. In fact, this era was critical in laying the foundation for Abramovich and Mourinho to forge the Chelsea brand as a major player in modern day football. Personally, the younger Chelsea fan has fully embraced the aggressive corporate approach and is totally disregarding the pioneering endeavours of these footballers.
Chelsea 3-1 Arsenal, League Cup 1998 (Vialli's first game in charge)
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
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