Italy – A Story Of Redemption

13th November 2017: A day of horror for all Italians. On this day, a bland 0-0 draw to Sweden sealed the Azzurri’s fate. They would not be playing in the World Cup for the first time since 1958.

14th May 2018: Roberto Mancini takes over the Italy job.

A man whose Inter team set an Italian record of 17 consecutive league victories, a man who took Manchester City from mid-table to league winners, that man has now turned Italy into a winning machine, and in doing so, has brought hope back to a footballing nation. This is the story of Robert Mancini and Italy’s redemption; a story of pain, revolution, and glory.

Ruins

When Italy failed to qualify for the World Cup, premier newspapers in the country deemed it as ‘The End’; some even named it ‘The Apocalypse’. When Mancini took over, the nation was in limbo, and many doubted whether his best managerial days were past him. Even so, the charismatic 56- year old bought about a wave of positivity throughout the country.

Gianluigi Buffon, Italy’s most-capped player, in tears as Italy fail to make it to the World Cup.
Image credits: Cbssports.com

The Italian national team cried for change, it needed a revolution, and Mancini stepped in to orchestrate it. 

Revolution

Mancini went on to break tradition and completely overhaul the tactical system. While previously, Italy had been associated with an impenetrable defence, Gli Azzurri would now play free-flowing attacking football under Mancini. Gone was the reactive counter-attacking approach of old; a style that had won Italy four World Cups!

Italian teams of old were headlined by legendary defenders like Fabio Cannavaro, Alessandro Nesta, Paolo Maldini to name a few
Image credits: FIFA

The Italian based his setup on the creative midfield trio of Jorginho, Marco Verratti and Nicolò Barella. He emphasised build-up play from the back and prioritised a highly technical front six. For the first time in their footballing history, Italy showed the world that they too could hold the ball and take control of games. 

Mancini also brought youth to the fore. Bedding in young talents like Barella, Chiesa, and Gigi Donnarumma with experienced veterans like Chiellini and Bonucci has created a beautiful balance in the squad. The former Premier League winner has given a whopping 35 players their national team debut during his tenure!

Sandro Tonali, Nicolò Barella, and Federico Chiesa are all stars of the future for Italy.
Image credits: 90min.com

Mancini’s rebuild coincided with a revolution in Italian football. In Serie A, coaches like Maurizio Sarri, Gian Piero Gasperini and Simone Inzaghi had become proponents of fluid formations and attacking football. Italian football as a whole was evolving, and the national team were evolving with it.

Renaissance

The Revolution has well and truly been completed. The last time Italy lost was in September of 2018; Gli Azzurri have not suffered defeat since. In that time, Mancini’s dominant machine has broken countless records. The team has made history, from the most consecutive victories without conceding to recording 10 wins out of 10 in Euro qualifying.

When Mancini’s men beat Wales in their final group stage match, only one headline dominated the news: ‘Italy match 82-year-old record!’. The Italians have gone 30 games unbeaten, matching a record set by Vittorio Pozzo’ Italy team. With a win against Austria, Italy have broken this historical record.

Gli Azzurri have done this in style too. An attractive, free-flowing, attacking system highlights Italy’s results. Mancini’s men employ a brand of positional play rarely witnessed on the national stage; each individual knows his roles and even when personnel are interchanged, their flair and dominance doesn’t waver. Mancini has spent three years working on his design, and it’s safe to say, he has mastered it.

Redemption

The anger of not qualifying for the 2018 World Cup lives through all of us. It is pushing us to have a great Euro.

Andrea Belotti

Italy have come to the Euros with a point to prove. Not reaching the World Cup in 2018 has wounded the nation, a wound that this national team are determined to heal. In response, the Italians have scored 3 goals in a single game for the first time in Euros’ history and haven’t conceded in 11 games. Mancini’s squad has shown no flaws so far; despite making 8 changes for the match against Wales, the Azzurri still dominated the game and registered a win.

Roberto Mancini’s squad management is truly unique.
Image credits: Sportsdesk.com.mt

Italy’s secret to their clarity in play is perhaps down to Mancini’s man-management. The Italian showed a touch of class when he subbed on substitute goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu in the 89th minute against Wales. This move highlighted Mancini’s approach to his squad, one which speaks to his greatest regret as a professional footballer. Mancini travelled to the World Cup in 1990 but unfortunately didn’t even step on the pitch.

Europe has taken notice of Italy’s mesmerising football at the Euros, and the word ‘favourites’ is being whispered. The uniqueness of this Italian team is exceptional. No other team in the competition look as comfortable with their style as Italy. With heavyweights such as France, Germany, and Portugal all knocked out, the Azzurri certainly look like contenders. With an Italy-Belgium quarterfinal finely poised many feel this tie will deliver us the eventual winner of the tournament.

Regardless of what happens on Friday, Mancini’s team will define an era in Italy. Their impact cannot be understated as they have revolutionised an entire nation’s culture. Mancini’s men have excited us with their beautiful football and perhaps have every neutral rooting for them at the Euros. Whether they win the Euros or not, Gli Azzurri have added a touch of class to the summer, one that we all craved.

The Azzurri’s greatest test awaits in the form of Belgium. However, one might consider them favourites given the absences of Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne. What do you think? Will Italy prevail, or will Mancini’s men come unstuck?

Featured Image credits: Getty Images

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