Euro 2020 kicks off on Friday night with Italy and Turkey facing off at Stadio Olimpico – and Roberto Mancini will be the proud home coach.
His coaching career is well known and he undoubtedly shed a tear like Pep Guardiola when Sergio Aguero left Manchester City.
Mancini was the man in charge when the Argentine scored his famous title-winning goal against Queens Park Rangers.
The Premier League has been added to its considerable collection of managerial honors, including four Coppas Italia, three Serie A titles and an FA Cup.
But his cabinet is just as filled with trophies from his time as a player and it won’t surprise many to know that Mancini displayed his managerial credentials from an early age.
Mancini was talented, a genius of a deep striker. It had the creativity of a No.10 paired with beautiful finishes.
In 2013, his name was endorsed by Roma and Italian legend Gianni Rivera as one of the best in this role of the past 30 years, alongside Francesco Totti, Roberto Baggio and Alessandro Del Piero.
Rivera praised the shot from the Italian, who managed to shoot, volley and get home with precision.
His talent was also evident from the start, becoming the youngest Serie A player when he made his debut, at 16, for Bologna. Although he initially struggled to settle down.
“I missed my family, I was not happy. It was difficult, ”admitted Mancini.
Tarcisio Burgnich played him in 30 of his side’s league games and while the team would be relegated their prodigy scored nine goals and ended the campaign as the top goalscorer.
Sampdoria took note and spent £ 2.2million on Mancini, 17 – who narrowly missed the cup for Italy’s 1982 World Cup squad – with four players also moved to Bologna in as heavyweights.
What followed was a love story. In Italian football, it is not uncommon for players, especially those with innate talent like Mancini, to change clubs regularly.
However, he spent 15 seasons in a blue jersey and his time coincided with the club’s most successful fate.
Signed at the same time as Liam Brady and Trevor Francis, the youngster was not going to play the role of second violin for anyone.
His passion was evident even in his early days and he hasn’t shied away from joking about the strange collapse of the training ground ever since.
He laughed: “I’ve always been involved in problems on the training ground, with Trevor Francis and Liam Brady (at Sampdoria). It happens.”
Francis confirmed his failure, telling The Sun: “There was a little incident in a friendly practice match that I thought at the time was something and nothing.
“We had a disagreement on the ground about this, but it continued in the
cloakroom. We had to be separated from each other. Let’s just say that all the players made sure it didn’t go any further.
“We reconciled afterwards and there was no discomfort after all we had
together for another three years.
After two years establishing Sampdoria in Serie A following their promotion in 1982, Gianluca Vialli would arrive.
And while Mancini had the club’s top scorer the year before, Vialli’s arrival helped them explode in life.
“He had developed this wish, this skill of always giving the last pass,” said Vialli, noting his friend’s contribution to his scores.
Vialli and Mancini were childhood friends and combined wonderfully with a Coppa Italia arriving in their first season together, with a little help from Francis and another British arrival – Graeme Souness.
Not that the goals have dried up. Mancini would score in the final second leg against AC Milan, which saw them lift the trophy.
It was the start of something special as Sampdoria won three more Coppas Italia.
Their triumph in this competition in 1988/89 led to their victory in the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1990 – a season after their loss to Barcelona.
Goal Twins Mancini and Vialli propelled them past Brann, Borussia Dortmund, Grasshopper, Monaco and Anderlecht in the final.
The trophies boosted confidence within the club and the following year the Serie A title was won with Vialli in the lead, scoring the goals and Mancini behind him, helping with creativity and a 12-strike pinch in the league. .
An incredible feat, which prevented Diego Maradona’s Napoli from retaining the title they had won the previous year.
Gianfranco Zola, Maradona’s Napoli team-mate admired Mancini, who scored a stunner against his side in that 1990/91 season – but couldn’t hide his frustrations either.
“To play against, it was a pain in the back, to be honest,” Zola told The Independent. “He was so good, so talented and such a smart player.”
“He scored an incredible goal against us in Napoli, one of the best goals I have ever seen.
“But besides being a fantastic player, he has always been a great competitor. That’s why you always had a lot of respect for him and Vialli – and you hated them at the same time.
“I wanted to hit him a few times when he was playing …”
Competitor is one of the hallmarks of Mancini’s career, his stubbornness on the international stage saw him never play for the Azzurri after the 1994 World Cup.
With Del Piero, Baggio, Beppe Signori, Totti, Zola and others, it was not easy to make the starting XI, even when Arrigo Sacchi preferred a 4-4-2 formation.
Zola added: “I remember his last selection for Italy – Mancini was quite upset when he came out and I was also very upset, because I was only on the bench. -being had a problem with Sacchi, but after that match he was no longer selected.
On the national stage he became a new role, actually a coach on the pitch, and it almost saw them win the European Cup, but in the 1992 final Sampdoria were again beaten by Barcelona. , this time thanks to the successful strike from Ronald Koeman.
It was to be the end of Vialli who left for Juventus, but Mancini continued without him, scoring the club’s best goal the following season and such was his growing influence that he persuaded David Platt to join the club in 1993.
Meanwhile, at 27, he will also sit on the interview jury that helped select Sven-Goran Eriksson to replace Vujadin Boskov in 1992.
Former Samp boss Eriksson recalled: “[Mancini] was a brilliant footballer, of course, one of the best I have ever had. His technique was fantastic. He was unlucky to be in the Italian national team at the same time as Roberto Baggio and they preferred Baggio.
“On the football field, he had a pretty strong character. If he saw that his teammates weren’t doing things right, he was going crazy. He has never attacked his opponents, only his teammates.
While attacking the referees as well, he reluctantly declared in 1987: “[Referee] Boschi is useless. We are complaining about violence in football, but the fans should really start thinking about beating up referees instead of hitting each other. “
Sampdoria, despite Mancini’s form, were in decline, even with Ruud Gullit, Sinisa Mihajlovic, Enrico Chiesa, Clarence Seedorf and Juan Sebastian Veron joining the club.
Veron was another Mancini had a ruck with.
“I had a terrible argument with Roberto,” he revealed. “He’s not an easy person, you know. He has that complicated personality.
“Today he’s a friend of mine and he’s really helped me in my career. We played together at Sampdoria, Lazio and he was my coach at Inter.
“But let me tell you, our beginnings were difficult. We were playing for Sampdoria and we were up against Piacenza. I hit a terrible corner and he asked me nicely: “Next time, try to hit the ball higher”. I don’t know why, but I got really mad and then cursed at him.
“So when I walked into the locker room, he was waiting for me. He wanted to hit me! In fact, he had taken off his shirt, and he was ready to fight me like we were a kick boxer.
“Fortunately there were some teammates who didn’t let him hit me.”
Manager Eriksson left for Lazio and took Mancini with him. The Swedes loved having a general on the pitch and together they would win two Coppas Italia and a Serie A title, as well as the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup.
“I have a good story to tell about him,” Eriksson added.
“We had problems with our central midfielder at Lazio and one day he came into my office and said to me: ‘Let me play in central midfielder.” I told him he had to be able to defend himself a bit but he said he would.
“He played 17 games in central midfield, we never lost any and we won the championship. “
It sums up Mancini’s drive to win perfectly and sort of shows how he quickly became a talented manager as well.
He also, at the very end of his playing days, spent a short stint at Leicester City, helping Ade Akinbiyi and Trevor Benjamin.
But after just five games with the Foxes, he would return to Italy to coach Fiorentina, entering a new phase of his career.
And now in Rome, Mancini could be at the start of something special again.
Taking over from Italy in 2018 after his country failed to reach the World Cup for the first time in 60 years, he made it a winning machine.
They haven’t lost since September 2018 – a series of 27 matches – and have won their ten Euro qualifiers.
You wouldn’t bet against him adding another memorable chapter to his incredible career this summer.
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