New Italy coach Roberto Mancini said yesterday he wanted to restore pride in the national side six months after their shock failure to qualify for the World Cup.
"Not going to the World Cup is difficult for those who, like us, have always been cheering for the national team," Mancini said in a press conference at the national training center at Coverciano, near Florence. "I feel the need to do something for the national team and think it's the right time for me. I want to build something for the years to come and bring Italy back to the top."
Italy has been without a permanent coach since Gian Piero Ventura was sacked after the four-time world champions failed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 1958.
Former Manchester City and Inter Milan coach Mancini signed a two-year deal on Monday after severing his lucrative contract with Russians Zenit Saint Petersburg. The contract, reportedly worth two million euros ($2.3 million) a year, will see Mancini lead Italy's bid to qualify for Euro 2020. If successful, it will be automatically extended until June 2022, ahead of the World Cup in Qatar. The Italian federation had been looking for a prestigious coach to rebuild an Azzurri side decimated after their play-off defeat to Sweden in the San Siro last November. Mancini will give up a reported 13 million euros in wages over the two remaining years on his Zenit contract to do national service.
"Mancini gave up significant financial opportunities to do so. This is testimony to his complete determination and desire to take on this job," said Italian FA commissioner Roberto Fabbricini. His first match in charge will be a friendly on May 28 against Saudi Arabia in Switzerland. Mancini said there would be "room for everyone" in his squad and that he planned to recall in-form Nice striker Mario Balotelli, whom he coached at Inter and Manchester City. Balotelli has not played for his country since the 2014 World Cup.
"Even in difficult times, Italy can boast of having players of great quality. I will certainly also speak with Balotelli," said Mancini. "He's a player that we want to see at the level he had during the Euro (2012 when Italy reached the final)." He also said he would talk to recently retired Italy great Andrea Pirlo about joining his coaching setup.
In Mancini, Italy have a coach with a solid track record as a title-winner, with 13 trophies in club football. He led Manchester City to their first English league title in 44 years in 2012, and won three Serie A crowns with Inter. He also won the Italian Cup with Inter, Fiorentina and Lazio.
Since leaving England in 2013, Mancini coached Galatasaray, whom he lead to a Turkish Cup success, and returned to Inter before joining Zenit last June. But this will be his first international coaching job. "I don't know if this will be my most difficult challenge, if you coach a club and you don't win everyone is angry with you, here there are 50 million people. That's beautiful too, though, because if you win something important there's huge satisfaction. It's not an easy challenge, but nothing is easy," he said.
Mancini, a former Lazio and Sampdoria forward, never became a regular during a love-hate relationship with Italy over a 10-year international career that gleaned just four goals in 36 caps. He reached the semi-finals of Euro 1988, and was in the squad that finished third in the 1990 World Cup on home soil.