Roberto Mancini: How former Man City boss is revolutionizing Italy
Failing to qualify for the World Cup and dropping down the world rankings, Italy’s stock has never been lower.
Former Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini was given the task of restoring the nation’s fortunes and leading them on the long road back to glory.
Mancini is aiming to stamp his mark on the side, whether by selecting rookie players who have not appeared for their clubs or by discarding the traditional, solid Italian defensive style of play for a more open approach.
Italian football expert James Horncastle tells BBC Radio 5 live’s Football Daily how the changes have come about.
International call-up before league debut
As a left-footed attacking midfielder, Mancini made his Serie A debut for Bologna aged 16, before fulfilling his potential by playing the majority of his career at Sampdoria and moving on to Lazio.
He won two Serie A titles and six Coppa galvanizing before ended his career in the Premier League with Leicester and going on to manage some of the biggest clubs in Europe.
Capped 36 times by Italy, he took up the role as national boss in May with a country struggling to challenge the best teams on the continent and needing a new direction.
Horncastle said: “Mancini has never been a stranger to giving precocious talent a chance. That goes to the identity of the man himself; he was a precocious talent at 15-16 and was too good for the youth team at Bologna. He was knocking on the first-team door and made his debut in Serie A.
“At Inter Milan, Mancini gave a chance to Mario Balotelli but with the Italy job, he is a very provocative manager and wants to reignite a debate of giving young players a chance in Italy.
“In September, he called up a player called Nicolo Zaniolo who had never made a single appearance in Serie A. It divided opinion, with people saying you should not give away the Italy shirt for nothing, you should have played 30-40 games in Serie A and in the Champions League before being called up.
“Then there are those who feel they should be rewarding talent regardless of the experience. Mancini wanted to flag up to Serie A managers that there is talent out there.
“Since Zaniolo has been in the squad, he made his Roma debut against Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu’s and made his Serie A debut away at Fiorentina. This is what Mancini is seeking to encourage.”
Is Brescia midfielder Sandro Tonali the new Andrea Pirlo?
Mancini has two wins from seven games with the Azzurri, but knows three points against European champions Portugal on Saturday will give them top spot in their Nations League group and a place in next summer’s finals.
Having previously topped the Fifa charts, Italy dropped to their lowest ever ranking of 21st in August, but have since climbed two places to 19th.
Horncastle added: “Mancini has sprung surprises again by calling up a player called Sandro Tonali who plays for Brescia, the Andrea Pirlo did – and in the same position, with hair like him too.
“His reasoning for that is that he wants to see these players and spend as much time with them as possible. He cannot wait for managers to play them and has heard good things about them form the Under-17s and Under-19s.
“Mancini is a very elegant guy and is looking at his role as walking into a clothes shop, trying everything on and seeing if it fits and looks good. He is open to new things and wants to push a new generation through.
“There was a big debate after the internationals in September. He played one team for the game against Poland, which they drew, and another against Portugal in Lisbon, but needing a result, he treated it as a friendly, made lots of changes and they lost.
“By October, he seemed to settle of a system, a style of play and what is really encouraging is that it is a young team wanting to play football, very aesthetic and easy on the eye.
“The system had Juventus’ Federico Bernardeschi, Fiorentina’s Federico Chiesa and Napoli’s Lorenzo Insigne up front.
“There were passers in midfield with Chelsea’s Jorginho and PSG’s Marco Verratti and box-to-box player Nicolo Barella of Cagliari who is very much seen as one of the brightest talents in Italian football.
“They played football, got the results they need and they will play against Portugal in Milan on Saturday with a chance of winning the group.
“But as with anything in international football, you are hostage to situations because Bernardeschi is injured and that fluid style is already broken up.”