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5 years of Roberto Mancini

On 28 May 2018, his debut as coach, in a friendly against Saudi Arabia. The highlight of his tenure has undoubtedly been the Euros 2020 triumph, as attention now turns to World Cup qualification.

Saturday, May 27, 2023

5 years of Roberto Mancini

Five years in the dugout of the national team is not for everyone: so far only Vittorio Pozzo and Enzo Bearzot have managed it. Tomorrow, it will be Roberto Mancini's turn to blow out his 5th Azzurri candle, and he will do so in his hometown of Jesi, where he is currently filming a commercial for the Marche Region.

Five years ago, he made his official debut with the national team, as Technical Commissioner: it was 28 May 2018 and in St Gallen (Switzerland) Italy overcame Saudi Arabia 2-1 in a friendly match with goals from Mario Balotelli and Andrea Belotti.

It was the restart after the 'Apocalypse', the elimination from the 2018 World Cup after the play-off with Sweden in November 2017. For seven months, the national team had been manager-less: in March, the temporary solution with Di Biagio, while the managerial search continued. Then, in mid-May, there was the wild card Mancini, who left Zenit St. Petersburg: on 14 May, the signing of the contract; the next day, the official presentation at Coverciano alongside the then commissioner Roberto Fabbricini. On the 23rd the first day of training camp with a group of 28 players (among the 4 new faces, two future European champions, Berardi and Emerson), for the games against Saudi Arabia, France (in Nice) and the Netherlands (in Turin, the first at home).

After winning 13 trophies as a coach (4 league titles between Inter and Manchester City and 9 national cups between Inter, Fiorentina, Manchester City and Galatasaray), Mancini took over as coach of the national team (only Trapattoni with 20 trophies at the time of his appointment had won more). He took over the reins of the team he had always loved and dreamed of, without however managing to carve out a starring role for himself as a player (36 appearances and 4 goals).

From that day on, Mancini would impose a new model of coach. Few but fundamental choices: the ambition to win despite the difficult position from which he was starting, the revolution of a traditional system by focusing on a modern and offensive game, the serenity of someone who knows how to look beyond the horizon, the smile and the desire to have fun on and off the pitch that would inspire the following years.

His first words are an example of his state of mind and what he would later build: “I am excited because becoming head coach of the national team is a big deal for me. I set foot for the first time in 1978 in Coverciano with the Under-14 team. To be here in this role now is amazing. I am also happy for my parents, who will be proud. Being the Azzurri coach is the highest aspiration for everyone and this was the right moment in my career. Playing good football? Usually those who manage to do that then win, and vice versa. One important thing is that players who make it to the national team must do it with their heart, because every player dreams of making it to this team and winning with the Azzurri.”

The first Nations League 2018-19 was the start for a record-breaking two years: the defeat in Lisbon against Portugal on 10 September would be the last until 6 October 2021, with the record of 37 unbeaten matches becoming the longest streak of all time for a national team, better than Brazil's previous record (35 between 1993 and 1996), with Biraghi’s 94th minute winner against Poland the highlight of his first few matches. Then came the flawless run in the European Qualifiers, in which Mancini’s side collected ten wins out of ten in the group stage, with the 9-1 win against Armenia the most emphatic result of the streak.

With the Covid emergency over, Italy started again in the new edition of the Nations League 2020-21 in the autumn of 2020. First place in the group ahead of the Netherlands and qualification for the Finals, then the long chase towards an 'Azzurri Dream', all the way to Wembley, where the second European title in Azzurri history was celebrated (with a record 13 consecutive victories up to the semi-final against Spain), giving the country one of the greatest sporting achievements to celebrate.

On 11 July 2021, the national team lifted the 'Henry Delaunay' trophy at the end of a breathtaking game against hosts England, sealed by Donnarumma's saves on penalties. The following day, Rome celebrated the national team as European champions with a hugely populated tribute in the parade between the Quirinale and Palazzo Chigi.

However, after such great ecstasy, then followed the agony of failing to qualify for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. Mancini said the following in response to the elimination: "I think that July was the best thing I had achieved professionally, but this is the biggest disappointment. Thinking about the future? Let's see what happens, the disappointment is too big to talk about now. I love my boys more now than I did last July.”

And so, after the great disappointment that Trajkovski's goal had given the coach, the Azzurri and all Italians, it was time to rebuild once more, working on the heroes of Wembley and on the youngsters of a new generation, who struggle to find playing time in Serie A, as some of the more experienced heads departed: Chiellini's farewell to the national team, the departures to the USA of Insigne and Bernardeschi.

A lot of youngsters made their debut between June and November to whom Mancini immediately gave confidence: Frattesi, Gnonto, Pobega, Dimarco, S. Ricci, Cancellieri, Zerbin, Gatti, S. Esposito, Scalvini, Pafundi (the youngest debutant at 16 years, 8 months, 2 days, in the last 110 years, only Gavinelli and De Vecchi were younger in 1911 and 1910 on the day of their debut), Fagioli, Miretti.

Now focus turns to qualifying for the World Cup and lifting a trophy in that tournament he never played in. He has the chance to make up for that, and more, in the USA and Mexico in three years' time.

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