Roberto Mancini was appointed Italy coach after they failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup and Richard Hall analyses how he managed to turn the Azzurri into European champions.
‘Apocalypse’ was the headline in Gazzetta Dello Sport after Italy failed to qualify for the World Cup in Russia. The nation wept and looked to Roberto Mancini to restore some pride and some sense of identity to the beleaguered national team.
The former Inter coach had a huge task in front of him but he quickly managed to form a group of players who would eventually reach the EURO 2020 Final and win it in the Final against England at Wembley Stadium. The charismatic and stylish ‘mister’ can take great credit for allowing a nation to be proud of their national team, again.
“Almost no one believed we could do it, and yet we are into the final,” Mancini said after the semi-final win over Spain. “There are games where you have to suffer,” he added at the time he accumulated his 11th straight win and the team were undefeated in 33 games. It was an amazing feat and the fact that he had managed to get his team playing for each other, almost like a club side was no easy task.
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At the time Mancini got the call, he was at Zenit St Petersburg and whilst not in the wilderness, it was an appointment that perhaps indicated that he was in decline. The national call meant everything to him and the charge of rebuilding Italy was too much for him to turn down. His Azzurri and his nation needed him and he answered the call with gusto.
This transition did not happen immediately as a poor 2-1 win against Saudi Arabia was followed up with five winless games. After that, everything clicked and the Italians have been impressive ever since. He has mixed experience with youth and given Italy a system that the players believe in and understand.
They all know their roles and they are executing their tasks well. The squad also is very interchangeable and the coach is not scared of doing so. Perhaps only Gigio Donnarumma, Leo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini and Jorginho are guaranteed a place. He has exciting wingers like Federico Chiesa and Lorenzo Insigne and the midfield, an area often critiqued in past tournaments, is the strong point. Nicolo Barella and Marco Verratti are complimented by the metronome that is Jorginho.
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In the EURO qualifying group stages, Mancini honed the exciting style that he promised to give to Italy. They play with a high defensive line, which at first, considering the centre-backs, one may think is dangerous, but they overcome this by unleashing an aggressive press. Once they win the ball back, the counter-press is the key factor. They also re-start quickly from throw-ins, free kicks and goal kicks, often surprising the opposition.
When they have possession, they are very clear on their instructions. The idea is that the midfielders and the defenders know their roles, allowing the more creative players to have freedom. The formation switches between a 4-3-3 and a 3-4-2-1.
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Perhaps beyond the tactics, Mancini’s charisma and style bring the Azzurri his interpretation of the nation’s feeling. He has managed to get the Italian players to believe in themselves and whilst not forgetting about that infamous game against Sweden.
Mancini has not just given life into the national side. He has not simply just picked the team up off the floor and dusted them down. Instead, he has rebuilt them in his own image and they, therefore, look attacking, professional, stylish and with a bit of ‘je ne sais quoi’.
The age of the squad is promising as whilst some of the old guard will retire, Italy has a plethora of talent that can come through. The coach will look now to the World Cup, confident that he has a sustainable and exciting model to make Italy proud.