After Italy’s embarrassing failure to qualify for the World Cup for the first time in 60 years last November, new boss Roberto Mancini had a large task on his hands in order to unpick the mess that bumbling predecessor Giampiero Ventura had left the team in. Such a failure for one of world football’s biggest nations was always going to have a knock-on effect, and the former Manchester City Coach has indeed wiped the slate clean and started again.
Gone from the squad are veteran players Gianluigi Buffon, Daniele De Rossi and Andrea Barzagli following the aforementioned disastrous qualifying campaign, making a fresh start somewhat easier for the incoming Mancini, appointed by the FIGC in May. A long-overdue call for prolific Nice striker Mario Balotelli was always going to be on the cards, but what happened next has been impressive to say the least.
For too long has Italy’s Commissario tecnico selected the same old favourites, Ventura’s predecessor Antonio Conte guilty of the same charge. Those previous names were not seen at Serie A matches nearly enough, either too arrogant or too stubborn to open their eyes to the wealth of emerging Italian talent the league had to offer.
Yet Mancini has diligently appeared in the crowd of a wealth of top flight games, and not just the biggest ones either. His most recent squad selection ahead of the forthcoming UEFA Nations League matches highlights exactly how much the Ct has been thinking outside of the box, his appearance at Fiorentina-Udinese last Sunday coinciding with maiden senior call-ups for midfielder Marco Benassi and Cristiano Biraghi.
Furthermore, Mancini has this week vocalised his views on Italian players domestic football, stating his belief that the likes of Roberto Gagliardini (Inter), Bryan Cristante and Lorenzo Pellegrini (both AS Roma) are deserving of more playing time at their clubs.
“We’ve seen plenty of matches but only a few Italian players have played, which can be a problem,” the boss revealed to RAI Sport this week. It’s also a bit of a problem when Insigne is on the bench. In addition to the ones already known about, we’ve called up lads [Nicolo Zaniolo and Benassi] who did well with our youth teams. it also takes courage to play them.
“We’ve called up players who were already in the system, have played the last three games and did well. Bernardeschi? We won’t exclude also using him in midfield or as a No 10. We have some problems in midfielders because of the poor use of Pellegrini, Cristante, Gagliardini and many others.”
While Roberto Donadoni and Inter Vice President Javier Zanetti have outwardly disagreed with his sentiments, a look at statistics shows that Mancini is indeed correct. Monday’s edition of Italian sports newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport revealed figures from the national teams of the top-five European Leagues, highlighting that Italy had the lowest average figure of domestic minutes played per call-up (155.6). This was compared to 167.7 for Germany, 202.8 for Ligue 1, Spain’s figure of 234.2 and the highest rate for England at 247.1.
At a time where the Italian national team is only just starting to emerge after hitting rock bottom, it is refreshing to see a Coach willing to put the work in, and who can stick his head above the parapet to build a team that can once again challenge for glory.
It seems that Roberto Mancini has realised that nothing is achieved simply by having an attitude of entitlement, and here’s hoping that his hard work starts to pay off soon.
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