After the darkish days of Italy’s 2018 World Cup qualifying marketing campaign, Roberto Mancini’s facet face Turkey within the European Championship curtain-raiser on Friday as one of many pre-tournament favourites.
The Azzurri go into the competition in Rome on the again of a 27-game unbeaten run having accomplished a exceptional turnaround underneath the previous Manchester Metropolis boss.
Tears, worldwide retirements, resignations and widespread condemnation accompanied their failure to achieve a World Cup finals for the primary time in 60 years.
BBC Sport examines how a nation at its lowest footballing ebb and a supervisor at a crossroads restored delight, cast a brand new id and rediscovered a profitable mix previous to their first match match on residence soil because the 1990 World Cup.
‘Italy wanted Mancini and he wanted Italy’
Italy’s main sports activities newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport referred to as the 2018 World Cup qualifying marketing campaign “the top” and Corriere dello Sport’s headline likened it to “the Apocalypse”.
However six months after the departure of former boss Gian Piero Ventura and with the Azzurri nonetheless seemingly in limbo, Mancini stepped ahead.
The 56-year-old came to the rescue after spells at Galatasaray and Zenit St Petersburg bookended an underwhelming return to Inter Milan.
“It seemed as if he was doing the washed-up managerial tour and his time as a number one boss on the prime of the sport was gone. However Italy wanted Mancini and he wanted Italy,” mentioned European soccer author, James Horncastle.
It proved a watershed second and offered a surge of optimism.
“When he was appointed because the Italian nationwide coach there was loads of euphoria within the nation that he was taking on as a result of he’s nicely revered within the recreation,” former Italy and Chelsea midfielder Roberto Di Matteo informed BBC Sport.
“He is a legend in Italy. I do not assume there was ever any doubt over his high quality as a supervisor or round his teaching.”
His reign received underneath approach with a low-key 2-1 victory over Saudi Arabia, adopted by a five-game winless run. However since then Italy have been nearly unstoppable, with Mancini’s 74% win ratio the best of any Italy head coach.
“It was a matter of getting a charismatic chief and someone who followers and gamers might look as much as for what he has achieved,” added Italian soccer author Danielle Verri.
“He received league titles with Metropolis and Inter, he received the Coppa Italia with Fiorentina and Lazio and has accomplished nicely in all places he has been. He has good gamers however deserves credit score for serving to this facet to develop and flourish.
“There was an enormous sense of positivity since he got here in. You’ll be able to see that within the angle of the gamers on the coaching camps and people vibes are evident in the way in which they play.”
Breaking with custom and blooding youth
Mancini’s pledge to ship a “rebirth” started by discarding the conservative counter-attacking fashion that has helped the nation carry 4 World Cups.
“It went in opposition to custom however after not qualifying for the World Cup he might have in all probability accomplished something as a result of that was such a low,” Di Matteo added.
“It has been very nicely obtained by followers. All his gamers are courageous [on the ball] and play in groups that play progressive soccer, so it was the correct factor to do.”
Italy’s daring method in a fluid 4-3-3 formation has seen them rating 53 targets of their previous 17 video games, whereas conceding simply three.
There has additionally been a substantial emphasis positioned on youth, with six of the squad to achieve the semi-finals of the European Beneath-21 Championship in 2017 banded in with outdated stagers like Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci.
Mancini has additionally not been afraid to look previous the standard Italian giants in his seek for gamers, handing a debut to a then 21-year-old Nicolo Barella, lengthy earlier than the midfielder switched from Cagliari to Inter.
Extra just lately, Sassuolo’s 21-year-old ahead Giacomo Raspadori – who has been in comparison with Italy nice Paolo Rossi – grew to become the thirty fifth debutant of 67 gamers to characteristic throughout Mancini’s tenure.
Though not universally well-liked, Italy even produced a particular inexperienced “renaissance” equipment in October 2019, designed to have a good time their quite a few rising skills.
“It simply exhibits the power in depth and the standard of the brand new crop of gamers which have come via from the Beneath-21s and in Serie A,” mentioned Di Matteo.
Are Italy real Euros contenders?
Italy’s tag as one in every of a number of favourites for the match seems justified after they certified for the Euros with three video games to spare and received all 10 matches within the course of.
Brushing previous the Netherlands, Poland and Bosnia-Herzegovina to achieve October’s Nations League finals has additionally offered one other notable milestone for Mancini’s enhancing facet.
And with the likes of 2020 European golden shoe winner Ciro Motionless and a number of other of an thrilling attacking supporting forged in high-quality type, Di Matteo says there “is a quiet confidence” they may advance in the direction of a primary main last since Euro 2012.
“Barella had an excellent season and Juventus winger Federico Chiesa is a good expertise,” added the previous Chelsea supervisor.
“He can flip a recreation round by itself. He may very well be one which seems as a shock as a result of I am unsure many individuals know all about him.
“Motionless has scored targets for enjoyable prior to now two to 3 years and clearly you might have Lorenzo Insigne, Domenico Berardi and Andrea Belotti. There’s loads of firepower.”
Mancini additionally has the luxurious of a world-class midfield, with Champions League winner Jorginho and Paris St-Germain playmaker Marco Verratti able to dictating the play.
“There are few groups that may match Italy in that division,” Verri added.
“Barella has the working energy and there are nonetheless the likes of Federico Bernardeschi, Manuel Locatelli and Bryan Cristante if they should alter.”