Italy Under-21 Coach Gigi Di Biagio discussed synergy with Roberto Mancini and why Roma talent Nicolò Zaniolo is “the prototype of the modern football player.”
The Azzurrini boss had been the caretaker of the senior Italy squad during the gap between Giampiero Ventura’s dismissal and the arrival of Mancini.
“I like to think that the two friendlies I was in charge of in March were the first steps towards a revival, which then continued with Mancini,” Di Biagio told La Gazzetta dello Sport.
“People complained that I didn’t change very much, but I was hardly in a position for a revolution. There were players missing and we were up against Argentina and England.
“Nonetheless, I played Lorenzo Pellegrini from the start at Wembley, and I gave Federico Chiesa and Patrick Cutrone their debuts. I think Mario Balotelli is a great player, if he is physically fit, but at that time we had Ciro Immobile, Andrea Belotti and Cutrone, so it would’ve been unfair to call Mario up.”
Mancini is now working closely with Di Biagio to help move players up from the Under-21 phase to the senior squad much quicker.
“You could say we are in sync and that is important for Italian football on the whole. My duty is to give Roberto the work of the various youth levels, as today 80-90 per cent of the players in the Nazionale went through some youth level in recent years.
“We never actually discussed it, but just both naturally gravitated towards a 4-3-3 system. We did say that whoever is in the Nazionale must know how to play football, so that means changing position, having the courage to push forward. That’s more important than a specific system.”
The latest player to have climbed up the ranks remarkably quickly is Zaniolo, who is only 19 years old, but has progressed to the senior squad after just four caps at Under-21 level.
He was a regular at Under-19 level, scoring six goals in 18 games.
“Playing regularly will inevitably change things. Zaniolo is surprising me as well, and I always thought he was destined for greatness. We must wait for the real test to come, as a player is evaluated by the maturity with which he handles the pressure of the first crisis, just as Bryan Cristante and Pellegrini did.
“Nicolò is the prototype of the modern football player, almost more German than Italian. He’d fit in well with the Germany squad that won the World Cup in 2014: no phenomenal stand-out talents, but 20 very good players who know how to do more or less everything.
“I see Zaniolo as the perfect midfielder for a 4-3-3, but he can play in any role. This is the future of football and in Italy we are getting there.”