EXCLUSIVE - Vialli: 'Football management is like being USA President'

Alam Khan - Reporter 21:27 19/11/2014
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  • Different class: Gianluca Vialli made 59 appearances for Italy in a career that stretched over 19 years.

    When you think about the life of a football manager, it's not often you draw comparison to a Barack Obama or Bill Clinton.

    But Gianluca Vialli believes the pressure that comes with managing at the top level is every bit as intense as being President of the United States.

    Gianluca Vialli ‘open-minded’ about 2022 World Cup in Qatar

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    After 19 years as a player with clubs such as Sampdoria, Juventus and Chelsea, the Italian tasted life in the hot seat at Stamford Bridge and then Watford. Despite three cup successes with Chelsea, he admits it was tough.

    “Managing, you need to get used to it,” he says. “You get all the power, but also all the responsibility because of the expectations of what you achieved as a player.

    “You need to lead by example and the pressure is a combination of expectation, consequence and scrutiny. High expectation, a lot of scrutiny and the worst possible consequences if you don’t do well. You feel like you are the President of the United States.

    “It's a different kind of demand on your life and I don’t think I will go back into management, not really unless something amazing comes up. There are so many managers out there it’s not fashionable anymore.

    “I love football and it’s my life, my passion and it’s been my joy and despair, but I want to get involved in something with a purpose and something that excites me.

    “I would love to be a football director, like what Leonardo did at Paris Saint-Germain. Find a wealthy guy who loves football and says, ‘look Luca you know more about football than I do so let’s work together’. And we share the same vision for the club and I will execute the project.

    “Hopefully one day that will happen and I am open minded to anything, whether in Europe or even the Gulf.”

    Leonardo's role at PSG and their subsequent resurgence came with the backing of owners Qatar Sports Investment.

    The influence of Gulf-based owners and sponsorship in European football, such as Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister of the UAE and Minister of Presidential Affairs, at Manchester City, and Emirates Airline at Real Madrid and Arsenal, has Vialli interested in what the future will hold and the prospect of the Middle East’s first World Cup with Qatar playing host in 2022.

    “I'm excited because it's something new and fresh,” says the 50-year-old, who played in the 1986 and 1990 tournaments for Italy. “I think we need to be open minded about the World Cup in Qatar.

    “Football is a global business and it’s only good in places and countries where in the past you wouldn’t normally consider.

    “You have to think you might play a World Cup there. If it’s in December-January so be it, let’s give it a go. It might be wonderful, better than playing a World Cup at the end of the season.

    “It might be good to break up the season in two halves. There’s so many pros, and a few cons, but if you don’t want to give it a go and think it’s terrible for football and don’t consider it, then it’s wrong.

    “At this World Cup in Brazil, I saw players who were not in top form. Some of them trained them too much, some not enough, but it was affected by the season and the time of the tournament.”

    Vialli came so close to winning the World Cup on home soil in 1990, but Italy were beaten on penalties by Argentina in the semi-finals.

    He's proud of wearing the Azzurri blue, just as he is of a club career that saw him win Serie A titles with both Sampdoria and Juventus, the FA Cup and League Cup with Chelsea, and the Champions League with Juve in 1996.

    But, again, he admits there are dark days as a footballer if things don't always go the way you hope. Immortal one minute, indecisive the next.

    “Winning for me was not a joy, but more of a relief,” he reveals. “That this is done, this is over. In Italy fans can get so mad and crazy and sometimes football is too much of a job, and not enough entertainment and fun.

    “I loved to play for fun and I was very lucky to have a successful career. Starting with my hometown we got promoted from the Second Division and into Serie A.

    “When I won the Italian Cup with Samp in 1984 I thought that was the best thing that could happen to me, but then we won the Championship for the first and only time. It made me become immortal.

    “With Juventus we won the European Cup and then the trophies with Chelsea, I was very, very lucky.

    “I don’t think we took things for granted. Everything was earned. I remember the good things, but I also remember all the goals I missed and the trophies I didn’t win.

    "The worst moment was probably losing the Champions League final with Samp to Barcelona at Wembley in 1992 because I had a couple of very good opportunities to score and I missed them.

    “For years I would wake up at night, having some sort of nightmare thinking that the match had still to be played. It’s a good feeling to be a footballer, but sometimes it’s hard psychologically and emotionally.

    “I used it as a drive to improve and not to make it happen again. It took me about four years and when we won with Juventus in 1996, as a captain and that moment when Mr [Lennart] Johannsson [the former UEFA President] gave me the cup, I thought, ‘wow this is it, finally’.

    “But also I couldn’t help thinking about my team-mates at Sampdoria and the fans and shared that special moment with them too.”

    Like many, life after playing was never the same for Vialli and when management did not work out, media duties followed.

    And the Premier League and Serie A still dominate his thoughts as he keeps an eye on his former clubs.

    “I expect Chelsea to win the Premier League title,” he says matter-of-fact. “They did a fantastic job in the summer selling players for a fortune and used the money very wisely. They strengthened the side and are now ready to compete at the top level for the next four or five years, not just this season.

    “Domination is complicated now because there’s so much competition out there and you always need to improve otherwise you are left behind, but Chelsea can be competing for the top spots and trophies now for a few years.

    "Diego Costa has made a great start. He is a hardworking player, a goalscorer and he’s got character. He plays for the team, I like him very much.”

    While Chelsea are also contenders in the Champions League, Juventus are not and failed to qualify for the last 16 in the previous campaign, highlighting the troubles for Serie A clubs among the elite.

    “Honestly I am saddened by what is happening with Italian football. I would like to see them doing better in European competitions, and I hope they will one day,” he says.

    “If we get it right and are courageous enough to reconsider a few issues then we will. It’s a phase, but one that is lasting too long. At the moment unless we roll our sleeves up and work together for a common goal we are not going to get out of it.

    “We need to strengthen the foundation, get things right financially, and start again. We have so many qualities, but we are too short-sighted, always looking at next season rather than the next 10 years. Clubs have to rebuild and bring players through. It’s possible, but will take time.”


    Born: July 9, 1964 in Cremona, Italy

    Club career: Cremonese (1980-84), Sampdoria (84-92), Juventus (92-96), Chelsea (96-99)

    International careeer: Italy (1985-92): 59 caps (16 goals)

    Managerial career: Chelsea (1998-2000), Watford (2001-02)

    Major achievements: UEFA Champions League, two Serie A titles, two UEFA Cup Winners’ Cups, UEFA Cup, four Coppa Italia trophies, English FA Cup, League Cup

    BEST PLAYED WITH: I've been lucky to play with so many greats, Roberto Baggio, Roberto Mancini, Gianfranco Zola, Franco Baresi and Paolo Maldini. It's hard to pick one from those.

    TOUGHEST FACED:  I got kicked a lot and physically, Sergio Brio for Juventus was a giant. Oscar Ruggeri for Argentina and Franco Baresi when we played AC Milan were also tough. But I enjoyed it, they were good battles.

    PLAYERS YOU CURRENTLY ADMIRE: Obviously Cristiano Ronaldo, but I enjoy watching the German players too.

    HOBBIES: Golf and I even played in Dubai when Chelsea were there. I've got a 8.5 handicap, but it's coming down.

    FAVOURITE OTHER SPORTSMAN: Tiger Woods, he’s my absolute idol.