Back in November 2017, Italy fell to a 1-0 aggregate play-off defeat to Sweden and failed to qualify for a World Cup for the first time since 1958. The disastrous run of results overseen by Coach Gian Piero Ventura marked one of the darkest periods in the national team’s history and prompted a national inquiry.
The Blame Game
Many ex-players and pundits blamed the influx of overseas talent for stifling younger home-grown talent but other major nations such as England, Germany, and Portugal all had a higher percentage of foreign players in their leagues at the time. All three of those qualified for the World Cup and Portugal had won the European Championships just a year before.
A Corner Turned
Six months after that debacle, the dust had settled and Italy found a solution to their problem in the form of Roberto Mancini.
— Italy ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (@azzurri) May 15, 2018
The ex-Manchester City boss led them to European Championship qualification and had overseen a 27-game unbeaten run (the best in world football at the time) by the time the tournament got underway. Italy also became one of the early tournament favourites for Euro 2020 with betting sites, such as GGBet360. They were installed amongst the top seven favourites for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, with early prices of 15/1 available. Suddenly, the crisis was over, the excuses were gone and the Italians were back where they belonged: in the conversation of the game’s elite.
It became clear that Ventura and his stubborn approach were not suited to the national team, while Mancini fitted like a glove. His appointment immediately restored positivity and pride. Mancini’s stock was already high in Italy where he is one of the most respected figures in the game. This bought him the time needed to turn the team’s fortunes around.
A Measured Approach
Despite a slow start with just one win in six including defeats to France and Portugal, Mancini brought an air of calm to the role. He used those games to take a good look at the players at his disposal and set about implementing a system of play that allowed them to flourish. Suddenly, players were more hungry to be involved than ever before and those on the fringes realised the door was open regardless of name or experience.
Unearthing Young Talent
He gave confidence to younger players, calling up many of the Under-21 squad who reached the semi-finals of the 2017 Euros; and drew on the experience of older heads such as Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci. Mancini also cast his selection net far and wide across the top flight, calling up players on merit regardless of the league position of their team. By the time the European Championship got underway, he had selected 67 players including 21-year-old Giacomo Raspadori of Sassuolo, handing debuts to 35.
• Giacomo Raspadori
• 21 years old
He’s frighteningly two-footed, can finish comfortably from anywhere in the penalty area and also possesses a great leap to nod home crosses. 😎
Welcome to our 21, Giacomo Raspadori! 🇮🇹
— 90min (@90min_Football) June 8, 2021
Through his actions, Mancini dispelled the myth that there was a lack of young talent available in Italy and revealed a strength in depth and quality that few had imagined. He has also transformed the way the team plays, bringing a progressive and fluid brand of football that has excited fans. Suddenly, the future looks very bright for the Italian national team.