When Roberto Mancini leads out Italy for Sunday’s Euro 2020 final at Wembley with his cherished friend Gianluca Vialli in close proximity, both men will inevitably think back to their most crushing disappointment as players on the same ground.
The two were born just a few months apart and they were known as ‘I gemelli del gol’, the goal twins, during eight glorious years together at Sampdoria.
Mancini and Vialli played together in a Samp side that won the Cup Winners’ Cup and lifted the Coppa Italia trophy three times before their crowning glory, the Scudetto in 1991, the club’s only Serie A title to this day.
It could have been even more glorious, but Sampdoria lost the 1992 European Cup final to Barcelona thanks to Ronald Koeman’s extra-time free-kick at Wembley.
After that Vialli -– the top scorer in Serie A in that title-winning season — left for Juventus and their prolific partnership was broken up.
Both men went on to finish their playing careers in England and have managed in the Premier League. They have remained close friends and now they are together on the Italian staff, plotting the downfall of the hosts in the final.
Mancini was appointed Italy coach in 2018, charged with the task of reviving the fortunes of a side that had failed to qualify for that year’s World Cup.
He has succeeded in some style, with Italy currently on a national record unbeaten run that stretched to 33 games with Tuesday’s penalty shoot-out win over Spain in the semi-finals.
Vialli became Italy’s delegation chief in 2019 and the pair’s emotional embrace after the Azzurri beat Austria 2-1 in extra time at Wembley in the last 16 has become a defining image of the country’s run at this European Championship.
‘Like a brother’
“Gianluca and I have known each other for a very long time so it’s only natural that it’s different,” Mancini said when asked about his relationship with Vialli ahead of the Spain semi-final.
“We didn’t necessarily grow up together but it was almost like that. We spent a number of years together and we have a relationship that goes way beyond friendship.
“He is almost like a brother to me but that is pretty much the case with everyone I played with in that Sampdoria side.”
There is a strong Sampdoria connection in the Italy set-up beyond the goal twins: Mancini’s staff also includes former club teammates Alberico Evani and former goalkeeper Giulio Nuciari, but also Attilio Lombardo, another member of the team that reached that European Cup final and who later played and managed in England.
Federico Chiesa, scorer of Italy’s goal against Spain, is the son of former Sampdoria star Enrico Chiesa.
But there is a further emotional element to Vialli’s story.
The former Chelsea player and manager, who celebrated his 57th birthday on Friday, was undergoing treatment for pancreatic cancer at the time Mancini took over La Nazionale.
It was only in April last year that he said he had been given the all-clear after a second battle with the disease.
“Regaining my health means looking at myself in the mirror again, seeing the hair grow and not having to draw my eyebrows on with a pencil. I’m very lucky compared to many other people,” he said at the time in an interview with La Repubblica.
His presence in the Italy camp during the last month has given something extra to a side that is now looking to win the European Championship for the first time since 1968.
“There has been an excellent rapport among everyone, between the players and the staff, and Gianluca is getting on a bit so we are quite happy to listen to him when he speaks up,” Mancini said of his old strike partner.