For a Coach with such an impressive CV, Roberto Mancini is still something of a divisive figure for football fans. Mancio won three Scudetti with Inter - albeit the first was awarded in the Calciopoli scandal - brought Manchester City their first league title in 44 years, and won the Coppa Italia with both Fiorentina and Lazio under trying circumstances.
Despite that he has never really been viewed as being among the game’s very elite tacticians, with his European record and perceived volatility preventing him from achieving the respect he may very well feel he deserves. When Mancini was appointed as Azzurri CT most thought he was a decent choice - but they’d have preferred Carlo Ancelotti, Max Allegri or a return for Antonio Conte.
With the Nations League over and several friendlies under his belt, it’s possible to begin to assess the Sampdoria legend’s tenure with the national team, and the early indications are that we’re seeing both the best and the worst of Roberto Mancini.
Many would argue that the Coach’s best work came at the beginning of his career, as be battled against financial meltdown at Fiorentina and Lazio. With the Viola forced to sell key men such as Francesco Toldo and Manuel Rui Costa, and Mancini himself reportedly going unpaid, he managed to deliver the 2001 Coppa Italia.
That remains the only major trophy the Tuscan club has won since 1996, and Fiorentina would collapse into bankruptcy just 12 months later. At Lazio too Mancini was fighting with one hand tied behind his back, with budgets and player wages being slashed in the aftermath of the Sergio Cragnotti era. Despite that, Mancini reached the UEFA Cup semi-finals in his first season and won the Coppa Italia in his second.
In many ways Mancio walked into a similar situation with the national team. Morale was at rock bottom after the failure to qualify for the World Cup, and the likes of Gianluigi Buffon, Daniele De Rossi and Andrea Barzagli had walked away.
Injuries to other key players hampered the Azzurri in early matches, but there are signs that Mancini is starting to give this Italy an identity. Against both Portugal and the USA his side played positive, attacking football; building on what had been seen against Poland. They may be struggling to score goals, but Italy look a world away from the listless displays under Giampiero Ventura.
At club level, one of the slights against Mancini is his insistence on numerous transfers, many of them ineffective. After winning the league with Manchester City, players like Jack Rodwell, Scott Sinclair and Maicon arrived and were disastrous.
His return to Inter saw Martin Montoya, Felipe Melo and Davide Santon arrive at San Siro, along with more successful buys like Ivan Perisic and Joao Miranda. Mancio may well point to sporting director Piero Ausilio, but his later career has been characterised by a huge turnover of players, many of whom haven’t performed.
Clearly Mancini can’t sign players for Italy, but we’ve seen similar tendencies with his scattershot approach to call-ups. Valencia full-back Cristiano Piccini admitted no-one had his number when he was called to the squad, while caps have also been given to Davide Zappacosta and Emerson Palmieri. Sebastian Giovinco was recalled from MLS, though didn’t play a single minute, and Lorenzo Tonelli was called-up in October after two seasons on the bench at Napoli. Vincenzo Grifo was largely unknown in Italy when he was included in the latest squad.
Kevin Lasagna may have the best name in football, but is he an international striker? The evidence of last night’s friendly would suggest not, with the Udinese man spurning several good chances.
To be fair to Mancini, he is somewhat bereft of options up-front. Mario Balotelli has regressed at Nice, and at the age of 28 it appears he’ll never be reliable. Andrea Belotti has struggled for form at Torino, while Ciro Immobile just can’t seem to score outside of Serie A. Never mind Luca Toni or Cristian Vieri, the Nazionale would kill for Alberto Gilardino right now.
With Euro 2020 qualification approaching, Mancini is currently achieving pass marks. Italy have improved since his first matches, and appear to developing a style of play. Italy are top seeds for the draw on December 2, and will surely have enough to finish in the top two and ensure qualification.
By then it’s to be hoped that the CT will have a more-or-less settled squad, with a clear idea of how he wants his side to play. If Mancini can achieve that then the future could be bright - he is a cup specialist after all…
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