Roberto Mancini is expecting big things from Italian players this season but has warned Mario Balotelli to get his act together at Brescia.
Mancini rated members of his Italy squad in the second part of his Gazzetta dello Sport interview, including ‘extraordinary’ Inter pair Stefano Sensi and Nicolo Barella, Federico Bernardeschi – who can become ‘one of the best’ – and ‘potential superstar’ Nicolo Zaniolo.
“Chiesa is young. It’s crucial that these lads play: if anyone is lucky enough to do so in Europe too, even better,” he told Gazzetta dello Sport.
“What really matters is that, in the meantime, they have become pillars of their respective teams:
“Two years ago they weren’t, today they are. That must make them mature. Sensi and Barella are two extraordinary players, I repeat ‘extraordinary’.
“It’s time for Bernardeschi to make the jump, becoming a pivot for Juventus. He has the technique, strength, pace to be a crucial player for them.
“Indeed, he can become one of the best players in Europe: it’s his time and he has what it takes to succeed.
“He can play as a wide forward, a false nine, a ‘mezz’ala’ in a more attacking team: he can do it all.
“Even if he plays more often in a certain position, it’s not certain that he can’t in another for the national team, although of course he’ll always be an attacker.
“It’s a shame about Kean because he’s Italian and Azzurro, but he’s gone to play in a beautiful and difficult League, with a club who haven’t won for years but have built a competitive team to try again. That can help him grow.
“My disappointment is more personal, but now we know: football is no longer like 20 years ago, when everyone came to play in Italy, the most beautiful League, where clubs paid the most.
“When you’re young, you get things wrong, but at the same time you mustn’t forget how lucky you are, in Kean’s case coming up at a club like Juve, where you must also behave properly, and in Zaniolo’s case to have suddenly become a potential superstar, perhaps the most promising Italian player.
“They must understand that they can make a mistake, but having their heads screwed on is a must.
“De Ligt absolutely won’t be a problem for Leo [Bonucci]. Leo has experience, class and quality. On the contrary, such a strong young lad coming in can help both him and Chiellini: they can rest a bit every so often.
“I’ve already made [Gianluca] Mancini play: he’s a very physical defender and one I believe in, but he’ll need some time: the same time that Chiellini and Bonucci needed. I also hope Caldara will be fit again soon.
“I’m not worried about the right-back situation. We have Florenzi and Piccini, I hope Conti can return to Atalanta and Di Lorenzo can be a pleasant surprise: he was great last season.”
The Azzurri CT is known for his love-hate relationship with Balotelli, who again has left it late to sort out his future.
“The paradox with Balotelli is that at 29, and for the second year in a row, less than 10 days before the start of the season, he still isn’t absolutely certain about which team he’ll play for.
“He hasn’t had any preparation, neither has he trained regularly: he has to reflect because his situation isn’t normal.
“It wasn’t a question of Italy or Brazil but rather a question of finding a team, finally. Whether Brescia are a good solution won’t depend on them but rather him: maybe playing closer to home will make him feel more comfortable, but it won’t be enough.
“I love him, but I can’t do anything for him: he must remember that he’s in the prime of his career and that he still has so much to give. It’s all about how much he wants it.”
Finally, the 54-year-old was asked about the youngsters who had caught his eye and revealed his ‘dream’ if Italy qualified for Euro 2020.
“[Andrea] Pinamonti has grown so much and playing in Serie A will improve him even more. [Sebastiano] Esposito has great technical ability, a winger like [Riccardo] Sottil is difficult to find, more so when you consider how young he is.
“Players come through in Italy with a bit of time. There’s time for them to sample the national team, but more generally, the door will be open to everyone until May.
“Meanwhile, since our League, unlike the others, has yet to start, I’ll have to first of all assess everyone’s fitness for the games in September.
“We hope to qualify for the euros. I dream of an Olimpico full of Italy fans, like at Italia 90, when there was the joy of having the national team in Rome.
“Among other things, if we qualify, that’s where we’ll play our opening match.”