So, I said I was going to look at some classic front two partnerships. This is the first one. Drink in the nostalgia.
Gianluca Vialli was expected to be the main goal threat for Italy at the 1990 World Cup. He had both hands on a first team shirt for the biggest tournament his country had ever known. The stage was his. Then, with the first game against Austria locked at 0-0, Italy threw on the Juventus striker Toto Schillaci. Vialli created a chance, which Schillaci tucked away, and Italy won 1-0. Job done, but Vialli’s Wold Cup was completely upstaged by the free scoring Schillaci from that point on.
Vialli’s teammate at Sampdoria, Roberto Mancini, was also a member of that Italy squad, but didn’t play a part in the tournament. The biggest show in football had been to their back yard and pretty much passed both of them by. They must have felt pretty deflated when they met up for pre-season training a month later:
‘Dude, what just happened?’
‘I don’t know. That wasn’t what I was expecting at all’
‘I mean, like, who the hell is Schillaci?’
A year later, their rekindled bromance had delivered one of the great triumphs in Serie A history – Sampdoria winning their maiden Scudetto. Juventus, with world cup hero Schillaci to call on, finished seventh – ha! (Obviously Vialli’s ability wasn’t lost on Juve, who signed him in 1992).
But, back to these two and their monumental feat, because it deserves recognition. Samp aren’t what you’d call a small club, but consider the insane level of competition in Serie A at that time. Everyone had good players. Napoli finished eighth with Maradona, Careca and the young Gianfranco Zola in their squad. Eighth! With Maradona and Careca!
I’ve heard it said many times that Vialli was from a relatively middle-class background, as if this was the most interesting thing to observe about his emergence as world class talent. He didn’t plunder hundreds of goals every single season, but he was playing in league where top scorers often struggled to get near 20 goals in a season, and he outscored some of the best in the world on the way to the title. At his best he was fast, skilful and clever enough to capitalise on the opportunities presented by playing alongside a supremely talented number ten.
Speaking of which, in his current gig as City manager it’s impossible to imagine Roberto Mancini as the kind of player who could have opposition fans applauding. But, Mancini the manager is more annoying than many of his peers because he was such a good player. He could put on a show against the defences in Serie A when it was the toughest, most rock hard league on the planet.
Enough prelude, watch this compilation and see for yourself, but look out for Vialli’s strike on 52 seconds and Mancini’s on 1 minute 15. Ridiculously good, and you get a mawkish Italian soundtrack thrown in for good measure.
Vialli (85 goals) and Mancini (58) scored 143 league goals during the period 1984-1992 when they were together at Sampdoria.