FEATURE: Roberto Mancini has given Italy new hope despite UEFA Nations League knockout

Despite Italy’s unbeaten streak having come to an end, Jerry Mancini believes that Roberto Mancini deserves massive credit for giving the Azzurri an identity once again.

Back in November 2017, the Italian national team was at a low ebb. They lost 1-0 on aggregate to Sweden in a two-legged playoff and failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. It was the third time in Italy’s history that they missed out with 1930 in Uruguay being the first and 1958 in Sweden being the second. Two days after Italy failed to qualify for the World Cup, Italy manager Gian Piero Ventura was fired.

Ventura was then hired to replace Antonio Conte, who left the national team to join Chelsea. The ex-manager managed numerous clubs yet never a marque team. The previous clubs that Ventura managed were Udinese, Cagliari, Napoli, Messina, Hellas Verona, Pisa, Bari and Torino. The Italian left the Azzurri with a record of nine wins, four draws and three losses.

Although Ventura’s record looks decent, he had a poor stint with Italy. He had a strong attachment to Ciro Immobile and Andrea Belotti as he had previously managed them at Torino. He refused to use a three-striker formation and Lorenzo Insigne’s playing time diminished.

Insigne was considered to be Italy’s most talented player during that time and was, bizarrely, asked to come on for Marco Verratti in a central midfield position late in the opening leg versus Sweden. Ventura was often criticized for his tactical decisions which left Italy out of football’s biggest competition after six decades.

In need of a manager who could turn the ship around for Italy, Roberto Mancini was appointed to replace Ventura. Prior to joining, the Italian mutually agreed to terminate his contract with Zenit St Petersburg.

He gave up €13m in wages with two years remaining in his contract to join Italy. Mancini took a £11.5m pay cut and agreed to a €2m-per-year contract with Italy. It was a sign that this job meant a lot to Mancini.

Upon arriving to manage the Azzurri, Mancini brought a wealth of knowledge about football and had several achievements. He has numerous accolades included the Premier League win with Manchester City in 2012 and the FA Cup win 12 months earlier. He led Inter Milan to three successive Serie A titles and has also won the Italian cup with Fiorentina and Lazio.

He was the manager that Italy needed to help turn things around and deliver prosperity back to this team. Since taking over back in May 2018, the Italian has delivered success and has brought about a winning mentality back to this team. They have established a real identity where their brand of football has been fluid, exciting and prosperous.

Mancini has created an incredible atmosphere for this team, who have been difficult to defeat. As a player, the Italian made zero appearances as a player with Italy at the 1990 FIFA World Cup. However, he was an intelligent player and read the game very well. Sven-Goran Erikson, who coached him at Sampdoria and Lazio, has previously described him as ‘an artist’ and a ‘genius’.

“I took the helm in a very difficult moment, but we wanted to do something really different with respect to what had been done previously,” Mancini said when he took over Italy.

“Then we brought in lots of young, talented players we considered well suited to adopting a different style of playing – more offensive than in the past. In every team I coached before, I’ve always tried to bring that kind of approach,” Mancini added.

“Sometimes you succeed in that, sometimes you don’t. But in this case, it was the right time to give our fans an attractive national team to watch and enjoy.”

Fast forward to the present moment and Mancini has delivered a Euro for the Azzurri. It was a masterful performance versus England as they showed determination to come back and win in front of a home crowd of 65,000 fans at Wembley Stadium.

Italy have witnessed a massive turnaround since Mancini replaced Ventura. Italy were unbeaten in 37 matches and in doing so, set a new international record that was held by Spain and Brazil at 36 games.

Italy’s journey towards the finals has been a roller-coaster ride which has seen a fair share of highs and lows. They won their first three group stages and kept a clean sheet in all those matches, becoming the first team to do so at the Euros.

They surpassed Austria, Belgium and Spain during the knockout rounds and the latter proved to be their most difficult opponent during these Euros. Italy was resilient and showed great composure as they managed to win 4-2 in penalty kicks versus Spain.

Mancini has achieved something extraordinary with Italy as they were hard to breakdown and defend against. He managed to elevate Immobile’s game as he managed to score on multiple occasions.

Insigne was the number one choice at left wing and he was magnificent. He played confidently and paired well alongside Immobile and Domenico Berardi during the first four games of the tournament. Federico Chiesa played well in place of Berardi and gave Italy a different look upfront. He scored key goals, made efficient runs down the flank and created difficulties for the defence with his speed.

The midfield has been one of the best during these Euros. Alessandro Bastoni, just 22 years old, appeared in his first game against Wales in their final group match and played admirably while Leonardo Spinnazola was Italy’s best player prior to his injury.

Giovanni Di Lorenzo performed commendably at right-back and rose to the occasion. Although Leonardo Bonnucci and Giorgio Chiellini are the oldest players on the squad, they still have what it takes to help this side win.

This Azzurri played brilliant football which stemmed from Mancini’s tactics and philosophy. In addition, he has this team believing in each other and they have a bright future ahead of themselves.

Mancini adapted Italy to play a high-octane offensive game, yet they provided stellar defense when needed. The Italian wanted all players to be involved and developed a family-like atmosphere.

During the 2020 Euros, 26 out of 28 players featured for the Azzurri. Italy goalkeeper, Salvatore Sirigu, entered the frame versus Wales in the 89th minute. Although Alex Meret has yet to play, he is 24 years old while Sirigu is 34 years old and this was his last Euros for Italy. This shows the character of Mancini and what his players mean to him.

“He came in and slowly, game by game, keeping things simple, he brought back confidence to the players and enthusiasm to the fans. He achieved something extraordinary: brought the Italian people back to their national time. Extraordinary,” said Federico Bernadeschi about Mancini and his time with Italy.

Italy has an identity once again thanks to Mancini.

By Jerry Mancini

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