RIP: Gianluca Vialli

A sad day for football. A sad day for the world.

By all measures, Gianluca was a gentleman. He lived out the lesson Don Angelo taught him at 10 years old. A lesson we could all embrace.

At the oratorio, Don Angelo, a football-loving priest, supervised our games. He wasn’t a coach, just a man who loved the game, with the special gift of knowing how to relate to kids and sort out the squabbles. Come to think of it, he was the only adult I worked with as a boy to whom teaching values was more important than teaching football.

I remember one day when he was refereeing a game and a player on the opposing team passed the ball back to the goalkeeper, who slipped and fell over. All he could do was lie on the ground and watch the ball roll past him into the back of the net. I was ten and I suppose I had an undeveloped sense of right and wrong, but it seemed unfair that the goal should stand. The next time the ball was in our area, I handled it blatantly, trying intentionally to give away a penalty. It was my way of leveling things.

Don Angelo saw it rather differently. He rushed over, picked up the ball and began to lecture me. ‘No! We don’t do things like that! he said. ‘I know why you did it. You didn’t think the previous goal should stand and you wanted to even things up. You think this is sportsmanship? This isn’t sportsmanship. Sportsmanship is accepting what happens on the pitch, whether it’s to your advantage or disadvantage…

To this day, it’s probably the only ‘life lesson’ I was explicitly taught on a football pitch (apart from the ones I picked up indirectly). Don Angelo illustrated how, in life, when things happen that are beyond your control, you have to accept them and move on. You can’t right a wrong by committing another wrong. It’s not the most profound message, but it stuck with me all these years because such moments were rare.

Vialli, Gianluca, Marcotti, Gabriele The Italian Job: A Journey to the Heart of Two Great Footballing Cultures. London: Bantam Press, 2007. (see page 70,71)

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