Vialli experiences hard labour among England's bonecrushers

Nick Duxbury on the Italian striker feeling the pain of the Premiership
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Gianluca Vialli's years as Juventus' leading striker saw him caught between a rock and hard place every working day in Serie A, but the attentions of some of the most uncompromising defenders in the world do not compare with his experiences in the Premiership.

The first of Chelsea's three Italian imports, Vialli, who spent Sunday's FA Cup semi-final twiddling his thumbs on the bench, reveals in Esquire that the "whole game is harder" in England. He also accuses players of setting out to injure opponents.

It may be that the 32-year-old Vialli is feeling his age, but the rigours of playing here has left a mark, especially as he feels that referees do not give the protection they should.

"English football is harder on an athletic level," he said. "Referees never seem to blow their whistles, so the tackles are harder. The whole game is harder. Every week someone is hurt, someone breaks his leg, or splits open his head. There's more fair play in Italy; no one sets out to jeopardise another footballer's career."

Playing against Leeds was like "playing rugby" for the shaven-headed former international, but when it comes to excitement, not even Juve's Delle Alpi can rival match days in England.

"Although the technical standard is not as high as in Italy, the atmosphere in the stadium is more entertaining and relaxed," he said "Supporters drink beer before the game, have a good time only shout to support their team. In Italy we feel tension coming from the terraces We know anything can happen if we make a mistake."

After winning the European Cup last season, a trot out at Wembley in the FA Cup final on 17 May would be the perfect end to the first bloom of Vialli's romance with the capital. However, he will not stay at the end of his three-year contract.

"I truly love London, but I will be going back to Italy," he says in the latest issue of the magazine. And what will he do in retirement? "I would like to train my mind in the morning - studying Latin, Greek, arts and so on - and to train my body in the afternoon: riding, boxing, fencing and the so-called noble arts."

The life of a substitute is not to the liking of a player who once commanded a world record fee of pounds 12.5m, but he is content to bide his time. "It would be stupid to be unhappy just because I'm not playing much," he said. "I know football and I know that it goes up and down. I'm sure that the good times will come again."