Close-up: Gianluca Vialli: Revivalist at Bridgehead

Juve's pied piper is primed for a swansong in the European Cup final. Ian Ridley studies an Italian with English designs

The latest bulletin from Stamford Bridge, which probably differs from last week's and may do from tomorrow's, suggests that the money is in place for Ruud Gullit to make Gianluca Vialli his first signing. Perhaps Chelsea are seeking another player-coach to go with Gullit.

Vialli, whose swansong for Juventus is expected to be this Wednesday's European Cup final against Ajax in Rome, is in the Gullit mould of player: intelligent man, unimpressed by authority - notably that of the Italian coach Arrigo Sacchi - if he deems it at odds with his own ideas on football and the world. Stand by for yet more views from the Bridge.

Chelsea supporters will deserve some excitement to go with the intrigue should Gullit get his man. Season ticket prices are rising by 21 per cent with the pounds 654 for the best seats the highest in the Premiership. The money will help pay Vialli, a beneficiary of the Bosman ruling, a reported pounds 1m signing-on fee and an annual salary of at least that much to match his present remuneration. This for a player, at 32 in six weeks, with no resale value.

Any deal for Vialli would illustrate the current financial quandary of the English game. It may save money on fees, which circulate, but it is in danger of wasting on wages its new-found wealth gleaned from television money and increasing ticket prices before it wakes up to the Bosman implications.

All of which will probably be seen as subsidiary if Chelsea receive some return on the field during Vialli's proposed two-year contract. He will have to prove himself more than a Serie A reject out for a couple of enjoyable twilight years in the lavish dumping ground of London but, as a good start, he is understood to want to avoid such an image of him developing.

Vialli is apparently concerned that Chelsea may not be good enough to compete for honours and is seeking assurances about their buying plans. He would probably prefer to sign for Arsenal, as recent telephone conversations with David Platt might indicate, though Bruce Rioch is thought to be sceptical, given Vialli's age.

The best offer, to which he will give his answer by next Friday, is from Rangers: pounds 1.8m a year, after tax, for three years. London, though, is his preferred home after Turin, where he would ideally like to remain but considers Juventus's offer of a one-year deal without a pay rise as unworthy. A goal on Wednesday may alter the thinking.

The evidence of the last two years suggests that Vialli still has much to contribute, as he insists he does. Finally Juve, the grand "Old Lady" of Italian football, have broken the dominance of the starlet Milan and at the centre of the revival, giving the team its heartbeat, has been Vialli.

Vialli joined Juventus from Sampdoria in the summer of 1992 for a fee of pounds 12m, which was a world record for a few weeks until Milan paid Torino pounds 13m for Gianluigi Lentini. A broken bone in his foot restricted Vialli's appearances over the next two seasons, however, and he spent more time receiving treatment than the adulation of the Stadio delle Alpi.

At the start of last season, fully fit at last, he acknowledged he owed the club. He was to pay in full, being voted World Player of the Year in the process. In tandem with Roberto Baggio and with Fabrizio Ravanelli developing into more than the clumsy striker he at first appeared, Juve were a potent attacking force and the Scudetto was secured for a record 23rd time, the club's first for nine years. In also winning the cup, they became only the fourth club to do the double.

Vialli was the most potent, his 17 league goals only two short of his best-ever return - 19, the best in the league - as Sampdoria became champions in 1990-91. A muscular presence, honed by a devotion to weight training, was now allied to clever movement off the ball - as seen in enabling Paulo Sousa to score the clinching goal against Nantes in the semi-final - and a subtle touch as he showed himself a perceptive, all-round player. "He is," says the Juventus owner, Gianni Agnelli, "the Michelangelo of the Sistine Chapel. A sculptor who can transform himself into a painter."

This season, Juventus's form domestically has been patchy but the European Cup has always been the aim and though much attention has been focused on the rising young prodigy Alessandro del Piero, scorer of six European goals, Vialli has again been the talisman, easing the strain on the 21- year-old.

Vialli will surely recognise the burden on Del Piero, who will have to shoulder many of the high Italian hopes for Euro 96. He himself was exposed at a young age to the professional game. At 16 he made his debut for his home town team, Cremonese and at 20 was transferred to Sampdoria for pounds 1.8m.

All curly hair and instinctive goal-scoring talent, he was an important figure in the 1986 Italian team who beat England to reach the final of the European Under-21 tournament, in which they lost to Spain on penalties. Vialli was among the number the manager Azeglio Vicini took with him to the European Championship finals of 1988 and, though the Italians flattered to deceive, Vialli produced a memorable moment to score the goal which gave senior revenge over Spain in Frankfurt.

Vicini persevered with him at Italia '90, bringing him back after injury for the semi-final against Argentina in place of Baggio. It was a mistake and brought much criticism as Italy were beaten. Vicini's successor Arrigo Sacchi never felt constrained to show the same loyalty and a mutual mistrust greater even than Venables's for Le Tissier, Aime Jacquet's for Cantona, developed. Gullit, in self-imposed exile from the Dutch team, will recognise the syndrome.

It seemed the feud might end last year when Sacchi announced that his players deemed a recall in order for Vialli, who won the last of the 59 caps that yielded 16 goals - 11th in the Italian all-time list - in December 1992. Vialli's response was that surely it was for the coach, not the players, to decide. Neither did criticism of a national team performance endear him, and Italy will come to Euro 96 without him.

His absence there will give Wednesday's appearance on the European stage more meaning, its importance fuelled by defeat in his last match for Sampdoria after eight glorious years, when they were beaten by Barcelona in the 1992 Champions' Cup final at Wembley.

Its significance is huge, too, for Juventus, who previously won the trophy in 1985 amid the tragedy of Heysel and have considered it an empty victory. In the full, mature figure of Vialli, they may have an antidote to Ajax.

How the European Cup finalists compare

Ajax

Possible team (3-5-2): Van der Sar; Silooy, Blind, Bogarde; George, F De Boer, R. De Boer, Davids, Wooter; Kanu, Litmanen.

How they got there: Group matches: beat Real Madrid 1-0 (h), 2-0 (a); bt Ferencvaros 4-0 (h), 5-1 (a); bt Grasshopper Zurich 3-0 (h), drew 0- 0 (a). Quarter- finals: bt Borussia Dortmund 3-0 on agg (2-0 h, 1-0 a). Semi-finals: bt Panathinaikos 3-1 on agg (0-1 h, 3-0 a).

Strengths: Enthusiasm and energy of youth. Teamwork, splendid technique, tactically innovative.

Weaknesses: Can look ponderous at times and without an outstanding dribbler to change the game, if their passing game is shut down, they can be ineffective. Kluivert likely to be on bench.

Juventus

Possible team (4-4-2): Peruzzi; Ferrara, Vierchowod, Carrera, Pessotto; Di Livio, Paulo Sousa, Deschamps, Del Piero; Vialli, Ravanelli.

How they got there: Group matches: bt Borussia Dortmund 3-1 (a), lost 1-2 (h); beat Rangers 4-1 (h), 4-0 (a); bt Steaua Bucharest 3-0 (h), drew 0-0 (a). Quarter-finals: bt Real Madrid 2-1 on agg (lost 1-0 a, won 2-0 h). Semi-finals: bt Nantes 4-3 on agg (won 2-0 h, lost 3-2 a).

Strengths: Physically powerful with high work-rate allied to a mixed game of close passing and direct thrust. Unpredictable talents of Alessandro del Piero also give them a different dimension.

Weaknesses: Their defence is more porous than normally associated with Italian sides.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive or Senior Sales Executive - B2B Exhibitions

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future