On Friday night, Euro 2020 will begin with Italy and Turkey doing battle at the Stadio Olimpico – and Roberto Mancini will be the proud home manager.
His coaching career is well known, and no doubt he shed a tear like Pep Guardiola when Sergio Aguero left Manchester City.
Mancini was the man in charge when the Argentine scored his famous title-winning goal against Queens Park Rangers.
The Premier League was added to his considerable collection of managerial honours, including four Coppas Italia, three Serie A titles and an FA Cup.
But his cabinet is just as full of trophies from his time as a player and it won’t surprise many to know Mancini displayed his managerial credentials from a young age.
Mancini was talented, a genius of a deep-lying forward. He had the creativity of a No.10 paired with fine finishing.
Back in 2013, his name was held up by Roma and Italy legend Gianni Rivera as one of the best in that role of the previous 30 years, alongside Francesco Totti, Roberto Baggio, and Alessandro Del Piero.
Rivera hailed the shooting of the Italian, who was able to rifle, volley, and guide home with precision.
His talent was obvious from the start too, becoming Serie A’s youngest ever player when he made his debut, aged 16, for Bologna. Although he had struggled initially to settle.
“I missed my family, I wasn’t happy. It was difficult,” Mancini admitted.
Tarcisio Burgnich played him in 30 of his side’s league matches and while the team would be relegated, their wonderkid hit nine goals and ended the campaign as their top scorer.
Sampdoria took note and spent £2.2million on 17-year-old Mancini – who narrowly missed the cut for Italy’s 1982 World Cup squad – with four players also moving to Bologna as makeweights.
What followed was a love affair. In Italian football, it’s not uncommon for players, especially those with innate talent like Mancini, to swap clubs regularly.
He, though, went on to spend 15 seasons in a blue shirt and his time their coincided with the club’s most successful spell.
Signed at the same time as Liam Brady and Trevor Francis, the youngster wasn’t about to play second fiddle to anyone.
His passion evident even in his early days and he’s not been shy joking about the odd training ground bust up since.
He laughed: “I was always involved in problems on the training ground, with Trevor Francis and Liam Brady (at Sampdoria). It happens.”
Francis confirmed his bust-up, telling The Sun: “There was a little incident in a friendly training match that at the time I thought was something and nothing.
“We had a disagreement on the pitch about it but it continued into the
dressing room. We had to be split from each other. Let’s just say all the players made sure that it didn’t go any further.
“We made up afterwards and there was no ill feeling, after all we played
together for another three years.”
After two years stablising Sampdoria as Serie A side following their promotion in 1982, Gianluca Vialli would arrive.
And while Mancini had top scored for the club the previous year, the arrival of Vialli helped them explode into life.
“He’d developed this wish, this skill to always give the last pass,” said Vialli, noting his friend’s contribution to his tallies.
Vialli and Mancini were childhood friends and combined beautifully with a Coppa Italia arriving in their first season together, with a little help from Francis and another British arrival – Graeme Souness.
Not that the goals dried up. Mancini would score in the second leg of the final against AC Milan, which saw them lift the trophy.
It was the beginning of something special as Sampdoria won a further three Coppas Italia.
Their triumph in that competition in 1988/89 led to their 1990 European Cup Winners’ Cup victory – a season after they had lost to Barcelona.
‘Goal Twins’ Mancini and Vialli powered them past Brann, Borussia Dortmund, Grasshopper, Monaco, and Anderlecht in the final.
The trophies upped the confidence within the club and the next year the Serie A title was won with Vialli up top, banging in the goals and Mancini behind him, aiding with creativity and a sprinkling of 12 league strikes.
An unbelievable feat, which stopped Diego Maradona’s Napoli retaining the title they had won the previous year.
Gianfranco Zola, Maradona’s teammate with Napoli admired Mancini, who netted a stunner against his side in that 1990/91 season – but couldn’t hide his frustrations either.
“To play against, he was a pain in the backside, to be honest,” Zola told The Independent. “He was so good, so talented and such an intelligent player.”
“He scored an unbelievable goal against us at Napoli, one of the best goals I’ve ever seen.
“But as well as being a fantastic player, he has always been a great competitor. That’s why you always had a lot of respect for him and Vialli – and you hated them at the same time.
“I wanted to kick him a few times when he was playing..”
Competitor is one of the key words in Mancini’s career, his stubbornness on the international stage saw him never play for the Azzurri after the 1994 World Cup.
With Del Piero, Baggio, Beppe Signori, Totti, Zola, and others, it wasn’t easy to make the starting XI, even when Arrigo Sacchi preferred a 4-4-2 formation.
Zola added: “I remember his last cap for Italy – Mancini was quite upset when he came off and I was quite upset too, because I was only on the bench. I think he may have had a problem with Sacchi, but after that game he was not selected any more.”
On the domestic stage, he grew into a new role, effectively a manager on the pitch, and it almost saw them claim the European Cup but in the 1992 final, Sampdoria were beaten by Barcelona again, this time thanks to Ronald Koeman’s blockbuster strike.
That was to be the end of Vialli who left for Juventus, but Mancini carried on without him, top-scoring for the club the next season and such was his growing influence he persuaded David Platt to join the club in 1993.
Meanwhile, he would also, aged 27, sit on the interview panel which helped select Sven-Goran Eriksson as the replacement for Vujadin Boskov, in 1992.
Ex-Samp boss Eriksson recalled: “[Mancini] was a brilliant footballer, of course, one of the best I ever had. His technique was fantasy. He was unlucky that he was in the Italian national side at the same time as Roberto Baggio and they preferred Baggio.
“On the football pitch he had quite a strong temper. If he saw that his teammates weren’t doing things right, he went berserk. He never took it out on his opponents, only his teammates.”
While he also took his fury out on referees, he ill-advisedly said in 1987: “[Referee] Boschi is useless. We complain about football violence, but supporters should really start thinking about beating up referees instead of clobbering each other.”
Sampdoria, despite Mancini’s form, were in decline, even with Ruud Gullit, Sinisa Mihajlovic, Enrico Chiesa, Clarence Seedorf, and Juan Sebastian Veron joining the club.
Veron was another who Mancini had a ruck with.
“I had a terrible argument with Roberto,” he revealed. “He is not an easy person, you know. He has this complicated personality.
“Today, he is a friend of mine and he really helped me during my career. We played together at Sampdoria, Lazio and he was my coach at Inter.
“But let me tell you our beginning was hard. We were playing for Sampdoria and we were facing Piacenza. I hit a terrible corner kick and he asked me nicely: ‘Next time, try to kick the ball higher’. I don’t know why, but I got really furious and then I insulted him.
“So when I entered the dressing room, he was waiting for me. He wanted to punch me! In fact, he had taken his shirt off, and he was ready to fight me as if we were kick boxer
“Fortunately, there were some team-mates who didn’t let him punch me.”
Manager Eriksson left for Lazio and took Mancini with him. The Swede loved having a general on the field and together they would win two Coppas Italia and a Serie A title, as well as the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup.
“I have a good story to tell about him,” added Eriksson.
“We had problems with our central midfield at Lazio and one day he came into my office and said, ‘Let me play central midfield’. I told him he had to be able to defend a little bit but he said he would do it.
“He played 17 games in central midfield, we never lost one and we won the league.”
It neatly sums up Mancini’s will to win and goes some way to showing how he quickly became a talented manager too.
He also, at the very end of his playing days, spent a short stint at Leicester City, brought into aid Ade Akinbiyi and Trevor Benjamin.
But after just five games with the Foxes he would return to Italy to coach Fiorentina, beginning a new phase of his career.
And now, in Rome, Mancini could be at the start of something special again.
Taking on the Italy job in 2018 after his nation’s failure to reach the World Cup for the first time in 60 years, he has turned them into a winning machine.
They have not lost since September 2018 – a run spanning 27 matches – and won all ten of their Euro qualifiers.
You wouldn’t bet against him adding another memorable chapter to his incredible career this summer.
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