All good things must come to an end. Roberto Mancini found that out the hard way earlier this month when his Italian side’s impressive 37-game unbeaten streak came an end in the semi-finals of the UEFA Nations League, losing 2-1 to their Mediterranean rivals Spain at the San Siro thanks to a brace from Manchester City’s Ferran Torres.
It was a record-breaking run that very few saw coming when Mancini took over a rather lacklustre Italy side in 2018 — a squad who had just failed to qualify for the Russia World Cup under the guidance of Gian Piero Ventura. But the former Man City gaffer soon masterminded what would turn out to be an incredible journey, one that would see the Azzurri crowned European champions for the second time against all the football odds from Betfair.
But just how did the suave manager pick the Italian national team up off the ground, as well as his own career, and resurrect something so spectacular on the world stage? Well, let’s take a look!
Imposing a new style of play
The Italians haven’t always been best known for their thrilling, all-out attacking style of play. In fact, when you think of the old-school Azzurri sides, it is quite the opposite. However, with the Italian Football Federation desperately seeking a manager to get the national team to stop playing with their backs against the wall, Mancini, who was then at Galatasaray, was the man they called. After all, he did win a Premier League title with Manchester City. The all 11 men behind the ball method employed by Ventura as Italy lost the World Cup play-off to Sweden was quickly kicked to curb, with Mancini introducing a 4-3-3 ‘winning machine’ that focused on a more attacking, attractive style of play, based largely on possession. With ‘Tika-Italia’ employed, they certainly aren’t boring, scoring some 37 goals as they won all 10 of their Euro 2020 qualifying matches, while they also managed to find the back of the net 13 times at the main competition — another national record.
Reinstating team spirit and believe
Perhaps just as important as switching up their outdated style of play, Mancini brought the team spirit back and helped make his players believe in their abilities again, especially as morale must have been at an all-time low after failing to book their place at the World Cup three years ago. Despite the fact almost no one believed Italy could win the Euros, which was reflected in their outsider odds of around 11/1, Mancini had faith and he made sure his players knew that it was in fact possible.
The Italian manager may have had issues with players and people behind the scenes at the Etihad, but this certainly isn’t the case with the national team. The togetherness and team spirit is there for everyone to see. There was a party-like atmosphere at the squad announcement ahead of the Euros, with the players looking like one big happy unit, and one that believed they could win the competition, which made them all the more dangerous!
“This is a group that has never lost heart, even in difficult times, supporting each other and putting the interest of the team before the individual,” Giorgio Chiellini said after Italy’s Euro 2020 triumph. “If we are where we are today, it’s not only because of an extra penalty scored. It’s because we have been transformed by our friendship – one of the most beautiful feelings in life.”
Getting his team selections right with a good mix of youth and experience
Another thing at the top of Mancini’s priority list was to bring Marco Verratti, Jorginho and Lorenzo Insigne back into the fold, three players who were either used poorly by Ventura or not included at all, and they have proved to be vital assets to the manager and the side. Not only that, Mancini has kept faith in the aging partnership of Leonardo Bonucci and Chiellini, and despite having a combined age of 70, the pair are still an integral part of the squad.
There is also a good mix of youth in the ranks, with the likes of Federico Chiesa, Nicolò Barella, Gianluigi Donnarumma, Manuel Locatelli all under the age of 25. The togetherness of the squad also means that the more experienced players are there to help the younger members of the team and integrate them into the international fold.
With Italy’s quality on show for everyone to see over the last three years, we’re sure that the defeat to Spain was nothing more than a minor bump in the road. Mancini will pick his team up, dust them down and make them one of the more favoured international sides in the football betting tips once again, the win over Belgium was testament to that.
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