Inside Mancini and Vialli's 40-year bromance, from strike partners at Sampdoria to leading Italy at Euro 202006/30/2021
AS the final whistle blew at Wembley and Italy had edged past a stubborn Austria side, the sight of two old friends embracing stole the headlines.
The inspired extra-time substitutions of Federico Chiesa and Matteo Pessina that decided the Euro 2020 last-16 with their goals was secondary to Roberto Mancini and Gianluca Vialli sharing a warm hug.
The pair, both 56, have been best mates for over 40 years. Mancini is now the coach of the national team, while Vialli is officially employed as team leader, although his influence is clearly more than that.
As players, they tore Serie A defences apart as the 'Goal Twins' of Sampdoria, helping the club win their first and only Italian title.
They would dine together at the now closed Carmine's in Lombardy, talking football over fish soup. The two would also be seen dancing the night away at Portofino hotspot Carillon.
Their bromance began at Coverciano, the Italian team's headquarters, when they were teenagers. Observers immediately noticed the pair had an instant chemisty.
"Roberto has been my hero since I was 14," Vialli revealed on Italian TV channel RAI.
"We met for the first time at Coverciano. People were already talking about him even then. We must have known each other for how long? Forty years?
"He had a foot in my goals and I had a foot in his."
Vialli was something of a late bloomer. It was around the age of 13 that he began his quest to become a footballer at Cremonese, who were then a Serie C side.
During that period, Mancini was considered one of the bright sparks of Italian football.
He signed for Bologna at 13, reportedly snubbing the advances of AC Milan.
At 16, Luca was first to make his professional debut with I Grigiorossi, but Roberto didn't have to wait too long for his – earning a Serie A bow three months before his 17th birthday.
But it was the latter who would make a huge splash in his debut campaign – scoring nine times in 30 games.
Mancini, the wonderkid, had caught the attention of Sampdoria's wealthy and ambitious owner Paolo Mantovani, and was signed alongside Trevor Francis and Liam Brady in the summer of 1982.
Back in Cremona, Vialli was also making a name for himself. He lead the Cremonese line for four years, helping the club gain promotion to the top flight for the first time in over 50 years.
A SPECIAL BOND
Away from their clubs, Vialli and Mancini had begun to form a special bond while on Italian under-21 duty.
Mancini would repeatedly sell the idea of Sampdoria to Luca, and urged him to make the move to Genoa.
In 1984, the trick worked. Vialli joined Mantovani's revolution aged 19 rejecting several offers from major clubs.
It was the beginning of Sampdoria's most successful period in their history.
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In their debut season upfront together, the I Blucerchiati finished in the top four and won the Coppa Italia.
Memorably, they terrorised the normally unflappable Franco Baresi in the second leg of the final scoring both goals to beat AC Milan.
Soon, the Italian press would give them their own nickname – the "Goal Twins."
Mantovani was so taken by his strike duo, he adopted them as sons and even named his two dogs Roby and Luca.
Mancini and Vialli used to room together at the Astor hotel, where Sampdoria's stars would stay the night before a game, and would order midnight feasts of spaghetti alla bucaniera from team chef Giorgio Parri.
Speaking about their relationship on the pitch to Sky Sports, Vialli revealed: "It came just naturally. When you've got this affinity things just happen, you just get on and there's no jealousy."
He added: "Off the pitch it helps if you are friends. If you see things the same way and have the same philosophy in life.
"And with Roberto it just happened. We were good friends."
More trophies would follow under new boss Vujadin Boškov, including back-to-back Coppa Italia titles in 1988 and 1989, then a European Cup Winners' Cup in 1990.
However, at international level they would only play a handful of games together as a strike duo, with competition for places fierce.
Mancini would earn just 36 caps for his country during his career, while Vialli managed 59. Perhaps criminally, they only played in one major tournament together – Euro '88.
The pinnacle of Mancini and Vialli's achievements came in 1991, when they were instrumental in landing the Italian championship for Sampdoria.
Roberto was already showing a nous for leadership behaving like an assistant manager at times during the title-winning campaign.
While Vialli won the Capocannoniere, Serie A's Golden Boot, with 19 goals in 26 games.
The Scudetto triumph would allow Sampdoria to play in the European Cup for the very first time in the 1991-92 season.
A 112th-minute Ronald Koeman free-kick in the final against Johan Cruyff's Barcelona 'Dream Team' broke their hearts in the competition.
It would be the last time Vialli and Mancini ever played together.
Just two months later, Sampdoria accepted a £13million bid from Juventus for their talisman.
Both would appear on our shores at the end of their careers.
Mancini joined Leicester on loan at 36 in 2001, buoyed by the success of Vialli who had won the hearts of Chelsea fans as a player and manager from 1996-2000.
Mancini has enjoyed the far better career as manager, winning three Serie A titles with Inter Milan and one Premier League title with Man City, before finally taking on the national team job in 2018.
As Mancini began his mammoth task of reinvigorating the Azzurri, Vialli was privately taking on his biggest challenge.
Fighting pancreatic cancer, Luca underwent chemotherapy and lost two-and-a-half stone in weight.
To hide his illness he wore extra layers and chunky jumpers. His daughters drew his eyebrows on and applied make-up to hide a pale complexion.
Vialli also studied Asian philosophy and compiled a scrapbook of quotes, mantras and stories to help him through his journey.
It was only fitting that in 2019 Vialli was appointed as delegation chief – a position unfulfilled since Luigi Riva's retirement in 2013.
Last November, when Mancini's assistant Lele Oriali was absent for the Nations League game against Poland, Vialli was seen in the dugout for the first time in nearly 20 years. More importantly, he was alongside his Mancini again.
"Working with Roberto and the staff is emotional," Vialli said.
"He has said that we are becoming old but, for me, working here together will keep us all young."
With their victory over Austria, Italy set a new national record of 31 games unbeaten and have become many people's favourites for the Euros.
But Vialli, who is now cancer-free, admitted he had no idea his best mate would be such a good manager.
"Roberto is a great coach, which I honestly did not expect when we were playing together!” he told TV show Notte Azzura.
"He has created a wonderful atmosphere of confidence and trust in the players, and when a player feels the coach has faith in him, he can walk on water.
"That’s not all, because Roberto also knows how to instil discipline at the same time."
Now, they are reunited on the Italian bench.
"We met 35 years ago and are not just friends, but brothers. We did extraordinary things at Samp, then the rapport consolidated even after we took different paths.
"Friendship helps you to work better, because you have absolute trust."
Should Italy win Euro 2020, expect these two to be jumping up and down in each other's arms like teenagers again.
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