The former Italy striker Gianluca Vialli has died at the age of 58. Vialli, who played for Chelsea during a stellar career before going to become the club’s manager, had been undergoing treatment for pancreatic cancer.

Vialli began his career at Cremonese, his hometown club, before starring in Serie A for Sampdoria and Juventus, and ended his playing career at Chelsea before going into management and coaching. He scored 16 goals in 59 appearances for Italy and featured in the Azzurri’s 1986 and 1990 World Cup squads.

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It was announced in recent weeks that Vialli would be stepping away from his role as delegation chief with the Italy team to focus on his treatment for pancreatic cancer. He had been reunited of late in the Italy setup with the head coach, Roberto Mancini, his former Sampdoria strike partner, and Vialli was hoping he would be able to resume his national-team role.

Vialli announced he had undergone radiotherapy and chemotherapy in November 2018, having been diagnosed with cancer one year earlier. He was initially given the all-clear in April 2020, but in December 2021 he announced the disease had returned.

Explaining his decision to suspend his Italy involvement, Vialli said on 14 December: “The goal is to use all my psycho-physical energies to help my body overcome this phase of the disease, in order to be able to face new adventures as soon as possible and share them with all of you.”

Sampdoria wrote on Friday in an emotional article: “You gave us so much, we gave you so much: yes, it was love, reciprocal, infinite. A love that will not die today with you. We will continue to love and adore you because – as you well know – you are better than Pelé. And because, despite everything, our beautiful season is destined to never end.”

They added: “We will remember you as a boy and a relentless centre-forward, because heroes are all young and beautiful and you, since that summer of 1984, have been our hero. Strong and beautiful, with that 9 printed on the back and the Italian flag sewn on the heart.”

Chelsea tweeted: “You’ll be missed by so many. A legend to us and to all of football. Rest in peace, Gianluca Vialli.” The club’s Supporters’ Trust (CST) described Vialli as a “foundational pillar” in ushering in a trophy-laden era at Stamford Bridge. “Even after his time at Chelsea, Gianluca was Chelsea through and through,” read a CST statement. “He was a frequent visitor to Stamford Bridge and he was loved by everyone at our football club.”

Graeme Souness, who played alongside Vialli at Sampdoria, paid tribute to him on Sky Sports. A visibly emotional Souness said: “I can’t tell you how good a guy he was. Forget football, he was just a gorgeous soul. He was just a truly nice human being.

“He was just fabulous to be around. He was such a fun-loving guy, full of mischief, wonderful footballer and a warm human being. People will say things about his magnificent football ability, and correctly so, but above all that what a human being. My condolence go to his family – the kids were blessed to have a dad like that, his wife was blessed to be married to a man like that.”

The Guardian