Italy manager Roberto Mancini has truly transformed the national team into a well-oiled winning machine. It is all the more impressive considering Italy’s position just a few years ago.
Cast your minds back to 2018. Italy were in the doldrums, having failed to qualify for the World Cup. They looked disjointed, tired, and tactically archaic.
Now, fast forward to the present day. Italy have just won the European Championships and are one of the best teams in the world. Compared to how they were, it really is chalk and cheese.
Since the arrival of Roberto Mancini, he has flipped Italy’s set-up on its head. He will not bow to individuals – in Mancini’s Italy, the team always comes first.
He appears to be a great motivator, too. Not only does Mancini’s Italy play with great cohesion, they always give everything they have. For every game they played in the Euros, it looked like they wanted it more than their opponents.
How Italy Manager Roberto Mancini Turned Hais Nation Around
Mancini’s Italy Arrival
Mancini was appointed as head coach of Italy following their disastrous qualification campaign in 2018. He wasn’t the preferred choice – many Italian fans were hoping for Antonio Conte or Maurizio Sarri.
Mancini himself was not on a career high when he joined the Azzurri. Before the Euros, the last trophy he had won was the Turkish Cup with Galatasaray back in 2014.
His time with Inter Milan wasn’t a complete flop, but a breakdown in his relationship with their owners left his position untenable. Furthermore, he failed to win a single trophy for La Beneamata.
Taking over the national team was a perfect opportunity for Mancini to restore his reputation as an elite manager. His first game in charge was a victory, albeit an unconvincing one, as Italy beat Saudi Arabia 2-1.
Italy really began to pick up steam during the Euro 2020 qualifiers. In their qualifying group, they won ten out of ten games and only let four goals in. Mancini meant business.
The Group Stages
Italy’s first game at Euro 2020 came against Turkey in Rome. This was a comfortable romp for the Italians, sweeping their lacklustre opposition aside and winning 3-0.
Their next game, against Switzerland, was much of the same. Switzerland put up more of a fight than Turkey did, but they simply couldn’t match the Italians’ quality. Italy again won 3-0, complete with a wonder goal from Manuel Locatelli.
Finally, Italy completed the trio of wins by ousting Wales 1-0 in their final group game. Having already secured qualification, Italy fielded a rotated side in this game. It would be Federico Chiesa’s first start for Italy at Euro 2020, a player who would prove to be invaluable over the course of the tournament.
A goal from Matteo Pessina was enough to seal the victory for the Italians. This win meant they had not only won every group game but had done so without conceding a single goal.
The Knockout Rounds
Italy came into the knockout stages on a high, with many touting them for success. However, they faced an immediate roadblock in Austria. The Austrians put in a valiant effort in this match, showing they weren’t there to be pushed around.
The first half proved to be frustrating, as Austria defended well. Ciro Immobile hit the post, but this was as close as Italy came.
Italian hearts sunk for a moment in the second half, as Marko Arnautovic had the ball in the net. However, he was ruled to be marginally offside.
Heading into extra time, the game was still tied at 0-0. Finally, Chiesa broke the deadlock in the 95th minute, followed by another goal from Pessina. Even then, Austria weren’t finished – a late goal from Sasa Kalajdzic kept them alive, but it would be Italy who were heading through.
In the quarter-finals, Italy faced star-studded Belgium. Belgium may have had the better team on paper, but Italy proved to be a more organised outfit.
Italy had the ball in the net early on via Leandro Bonucci, but he was offside. In the 40th minute, Chiesa struck an effort in the corner – this time, there was no flag.
This was followed up by Lorenzo Insigne, who guided a wonderful effort into the top corner. The score was 2-0 – the game looked to be over.
However, a controversial penalty before the end of the second half was converted by Romelu Lukaku. Belgium were back in the game.
The second half was tense, as the Belgians bombarded forward time and time again. Lukaku hit the post, while Jeremy Doku blazed an effort just over the bar. In the end, the Italian defence held firm – the Azzurri marched on.
Semi-Final & Final: Italy Manager Roberto Mancini Masterminds Two Penalty Shoot-out Wins
After one great challenge, another reared its head. In the semi-final, Italy were drawn against Spain.
In the first half, Mancini’s counterattacking gameplan worked perfectly. Italy kept Spain at bay, then struck in 40th minute with a beautiful finish from Chiesa.
The second half was much more difficult, as Spain began to pile on the pressure. Chances begin mounting up, until finally, Dani Olmo and Alvaro Morata played a one-two to cut through Italy’s defence. Morata slotted the ball home and extra time beckoned.
Every minute of extra time was excruciating for the Italian support. Spain piled bodies into their area, desperately trying to score the winning goal. It was perhaps a tad fortuitous, but Italy survived to reach the penalty shootout.
The shootout began terribly, as Locatelli’s spot-kick was saved. However, Italy were given a reprieve, as Olmo blazed his penalty over.
There was a brief stalemate until Morata’s penalty was met by the palms of Gianluigi Donnarumma. One cheeky spot-kick from Jorginho later, and Italy were in the final.
In the final, Italy squared off against England at Wembley. England had the Azzurri rattled early on, moving the ball quickly, allowing for a shocking early goal by Luke Shaw. Italy were thoroughly outfought in the first half. They were lucky to keep it to 1-0.
In the second half, the fightback began. Italy began throwing themselves into challenges, refusing to give England an inch. They battled to win a corner, from which Bonucci scrambled the ball into the net. 1-1.
Both teams looked frightened to concede. The game, and the Euros as a whole, would be decided in a penalty shootout. In the end, Donnarumma saved penalties from both Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka – Italy were European Champions.
What Does the Future Hold for Italy Manager Roberto Mancini?
Italy have made leaps and bounds under Mancini. He has dragged them into the world of modern football, and they’re much better off for it.
Despite this, how bright is Italy’s future? The monolithic duo of Chiellini and Bonucci are in the twilights of their careers and will be sorely missed.
Can they be replaced? Maybe. Will they? Well, the 22-year-old Alessandro Bastoni would be a great place to start. He has 58 first-team appearances under his belt at Inter Milan, who have are the most recent winners of Serie A.
There are other promising Italian centre-halves too, such as Matteo Gabbia and Andrea Papetti. They have options, but the unique qualities of Bonucci and Chiellini will be difficult to replicate.
On the other hand, Italy look very strong in midfield going forwards. Locatelli and Nicolo Barella, two of Italy’s stars at Euro 2020, are only 23 and 24 years old respectively. They will only continue to get better as their careers progress.
There are also the likes of Sandro Tonali, Moise Kean and Eddy Salcedo to discuss. Italy aren’t starved of prospects, far from it. In fact, their future looks very bright indeed.
With Mancini at the helm, they’re certainly going to be one of the favourites for the 2022 World Cup. Plenty of things can happen between now and then, however. One thing is for certain – Mancini has revitalised Italy, and Italy has revitalised Mancini.