Legend of Calcio: Roberto Mancini
A brilliant footballer with a complex mind, the career of Roberto Mancini is a truly exceptional tale.
Mancini was brought up in the rural countryside of Marche and his life, like many boys at the time, was dominated by religion and football.
He moved to the Bologna academy at the tender age of 13 and struggled. “I missed my family, I wasn’t happy. It was difficult,” Mancini recalled in a recent interview.
Despite this awkward start to his professional career, Mancini’s ability was never in doubt. A lucrative move to Sampdoria was accepted just one year after he had joined Bologna.
At Sampdoria he established himself as one of the greatest talents in Italy of his generation. Playing as a deep lying striker, Mancini had the quality to turn any football match in an instant.
A true artist of the game, he could pass, shoot, dribble, run and finish with total ease. Despite never scoring more than 15 goals in a single season, Mancini’s pure genius ensured that he quickly become a household name in Italian football.
This ability was spotted on a national level when he earned his first cap for the Italian national side in 1984 at the young age of 20.
Paolo Mantovani, a wealthy oil businessman, had recently taken over the Genoa based club and would oversee the greatest period of the club’s history in which Mancini would play a vital part.
In 1985, a young Mancini won his first medal when Sampdoria won their first ever Coppa Italia. A year later Il Doria hired Vujadin Boskov as coach and in 1988 Sampdoria repeated their Coppa Italia success.
During this time Mancini formed half of the famous I Gemelli del Gol or the goal twins partnership, with fellow Italian forward Gianluca Vialli.
“He’d developed this wish, this skill to always give the last pass,” says Vialli.
Despite being part of a star studded outfit, it was this duo that grabbed all the headlines.
The pure finishing skills of Vialli were complemented perfectly by the outstanding vision of Mancini.
From astonishing flicks to deft touches, cheeky chips to sublime volleys, Mancini was able to provide countless moments of magic for la Samp.
In 1989 Mancini and his side lost in the final of the Uefa Cup Winners’ Cup to Johan Cruyff’s famous Barcelona side, yet the following campaign they went one better and won the competition.
Although producing stunning performances for his club side, Mancini played no part of Italy’s campaign during the World Cup in 1990 on home soil. Instead coach Azeglio Vicini preferred Roberto Baggio in the number 10 role.
The Wembley final in 1992 marked the zenith of Sampdoria’s rise to the top of the Italian game.
Financial troubles followed, yet Mancini stayed loyal to the club which had given him his chance in Serie A. He was still able to win Serie A footballer and Italian player of the year for the 1996/97 campaign.
This loyalty gave Mancini a cult like status at the club. He was able to exert huge influence over the outfit. He managed to persuade David Platt to join the club in 1993 and often gave the team talks before games.
Sven Goran Eriksson explained this attitude that Mancini had, “On the football pitch he had quite a strong temper. If he saw that his teammates weren’t doing things right, he went berserk. He never took it out on his opponents, only his teammates. ”
Mancini would often take out his anger at the referees. Signor Boschi, was subject to a post-match rant from Mancini after giving a penalty against Sampdoria in 1987. “Boschi is useless. We complain about football violence, but supporters should really start thinking about beating up referees instead of clobbering each other.”
Yet, Mancini never enjoyed this status at international level. Despite winning over 35 caps, he was never given a long run in the side. He faced competition from some of the greats in Italian football history, including Alessandro Del Piero.
Mancini also fell out with coach Arrigo Sacchi during the 1994 World Cup in America. This episode marked the end of Mancini’s days with the national side as he self-imposed an exile on his national career and the Azzurri would never enjoy the true genius of Mancini.
He further added to his trophy collection by once again winning the Coppa Italia and the Cup Winners’ Cup.
After a brief spell in England playing for Leicester City, Mancini moved into management with his first role at Fiorentina.
He faced a difficult task as the club were in serious financial difficult. Often not being paid, Mancini had to sell his best players, notably Rui Costa. Despite this he led the club to the Coppa Italia in 2001 before quitting in early 2002, citing that he could not manage in the difficult circumstances.
He managed to secure European football for the Roman club, although once again he found himself in a position where he had to sell his best players such as Hernan Crespo and Alessandro Nesta.
Mancini was quickly becoming the most sought after Italian coach in the game. It was no surprise that he was announced as the new coach of Inter before the start of the 2004/05 season.
His Inter side dominated Italian football securing three league titles, two Coppa Italia and Super Coppa Italia triumphs followed. The 2006/07 season was a particular highlight with the side only losing one game in Serie A, winning 17 games in a row and finishing with an unparalleled 97 points.
Yet, Mancini’s failings in Europe cost him his job. Unable to replicate their dominance in Europe, Inter did not progress past the Quarterfinal stage of the Champions League under Mancini.
The Italian spent 18 months out of the game after being sacked by Inter in May 2008 before he was hired as manager at Manchester City. The club had recently been taken over by free spending Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan. A project was put in place to get City to the top of English football and Mancini was chosen to fulfill this ambition.
Mancini was able to spend vast amounts of money and put together a squad of quality player including David Silva and Yaya Toure. The Italian coach ended City’s 35 year wait for a major trophy by claiming the FA Cup in 2011.
The following season Mancini spent even more, breaking City’s record transfer free by bringing Sergio Augero to the Etihad Stadium. In dramatic fashion, on the last day of the season City won the league title by scoring two goals in injury time to deny their city rivals United of the title. In the 2012/13 Mancini’s men were unable to defend their title, but managed to reach the FA Cup final losing where they lost to Wigan.
Mancini became a fan favourite in Manchester due to his polite and calm media approach and his famous fashion sense which often saw him on the touch line with a blue and white scarf.
However, once again Mancini’s failings in Europe proved crucial. In two successive seasons City failed to progress from their Champions League group stages. He was also put under pressure due to several bust ups he had with first team players such as Mario Balotelli and Carlos Tevez.
Mancini was relieved of his duties days after the FA Cup final defeat. Although being linked with several jobs in the aftermath of his sacking at City it is likely that Mancini will take time out of the sport before embarking on adding to his 25 trophies that he has won as a player and coach.
“I’ve always been the same. I’ve had the same mentality ever since I was playing with my friends at school. I want to win. I only want to win. I don’t like to participate at anything and not finish first,” Mancini once stated.
This mentality, which often spilt over, along with his natural ability ensures that Mancini has such a revered status in the Italian game.
Follow Richard Hinman on Twitter: @RichardHinman