‘Mancini’s gotta a feeling, that tonight’s going to be a good night.’ Well, so say the Black Eyed Peas, who are on his motivational playlist - a new innovation for Italy training we learned about this week.
This isn’t the only change Mancio has made since taking charge of the Azzurri, all of them intentionally implemented to try and reinvigorate the Italian national team after their failure to qualify for the World Cup. New methods and a new team, one that will hope to start a rebirth of the Azzurri against Poland in Bologna in their first Nations League game tonight.
Marcello Lippi spoke in this morning’s Gazzetta Dello Sport, saying “it’s a beautiful idea to have Giorgio Chiellini raise the youngsters.” All of the papers certainly seem to be full of enthusiasm for the new Nations League, and the fact that new format coincides with a rebirth of the national team.
Mancini has certainly been attempting to do things differently, from more relaxed training methods to a more obvious presence at games to a squad selection that gives a new message. No matter if you are old, young, have been ostracised or have ever played before, there is a place in this new and better-balanced Italy.
There were smiles in training as the players played small games to the backdrop of Queen, The Killers and Clean Bandit. The more relaxed approach is perhaps to take off the pressure, although there is no doubt that with Mancini, the rigorous hours of tactical work without the ball would have still been there. Perhaps this is why he has Coldplay on the track list.
The CT has selected his squad by attending an plenty of Serie A games so far, and his presence has been well advertised, making most of the League’s Italians feel as though they have had a chance to impress. It is this idea of inclusion that’s key, from the players to the fans and media.
The squad selection backed this up. While there were many names who would be expected to be there - Gigi Donnarumma, Giorgio Chiellini, Jorginho, Ciro Immobile and Lorenzo Insigne, among others - there are some surprises. Leonardo Bonucci, is one of the old guard who has arguably improved since he came back to Juventus, and his inclusion proves that there you're never too old to make the squad. His experience gives balance and helps the younger players. Others like Andrea Belotti, Roberto Gagliardini, Mattia Perin and Daniele Rugani have either played little football or have not been in form. Their selections are a show of faith that the CT will still believe in a player’s ability and give them a chance, regardless of their club situations.
Fiorentina full-back Cristiano Biraghi also gets a call-up, his first at the age of 26. With the return of Mario Balotelli, the prodigal son is back to being Italy's great hope, with Mancini arguably the man who has most consistently got him to perform.
The expected 4-3-3 offers excitement, but Mancini has made it clear the tactical system is not as important as the players’ attitude. The CT is aware that there is much work to do in remoulding the Azzurri into a squad who are hard to beat and have that tournament mentality they were once so famed for. On paper, there is much to be excited about as the mix of youth experience and squad team players is good. The Azzurri look like they can have a strong defensive unit with ball-playing midfielders and quick and creative wingers either side of several striking options.
Now, as Mancini tries to get the nation back as one and behind the Azzurri, he will look to be inclusive and adaptable. The idea that the players always have a chance to be picked and have been well scouted is clear. All he wants in return is a good attitude on and off the pitch and to be motivated at all times. In the words of Mancini’s playlist, if all his players ‘come with me now’ then all the other teams will ‘run for cover’.
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