Sunday 13 September marks exactly 34 years to the day since a precocious Roberto Mancini made his Serie A debut. Stewart Rickerd looks back at the playing career of the cultured forward whose only desire was to win.
“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 said in an interview with The Guardian.
Mancini enjoyed a highly fruitful career that saw him win a total of 13 trophies with both Sampdoria and Lazio, including a remarkable six Coppa Italia titles, some of which would help write himself into Blucerchiati folklore, although he was never able to really make a mark on the international scene.
Il Bimbo as he was affectionately referred to at Bologna’s youth academy, Casteldebole, was handed his first game in the top flight by Tarcisio Burgnich on the opening day of the 1981-82 season as a late replacement for Giuliano Fiorini.
He opened his goal scoring account in just his fourth game for the club and added a second goal against Roma at the Stadio Olimpico before his 17th birthday. His fine form continued throughout the season as he finished the season as the Rossoblu’s top scorer with nine goals, but was unable to prevent the club from avoiding relegation.
A move to Sampdoria ensued and his first season with the Ligurian outfit started in fine form with three goals in his first four appearances. The goals quickly dried up but he was always about more than goals and it was his vision and creativity that set him apart from his team-mates. His first taste of success came in the 1984-85 season when he helped the Blucerchiati lift the Coppa Italia for the first time in their history with a penalty in second leg of the final against AC Milan.
Playing alongside the equally talented Gianluca Vialli, the duo were the main driving force in Sampdoria lifting their first silverware and it was only the beginning of a golden period for the club. In 1985 he got his first taste of European action as he helped Samp ease past Larissa in the first round of the European Cup Winners’ Cup with a goal in each leg but was unable to inspire them to victory over Benfica in the second round. He endured a frustrating end to the 1985-86 season as Sampdoria finished as runners-up to Roma in the Coppa Italia.
Mancini was about to enter his most successful period as a professional and after lifting a second Coppa Italia trophy in 1988, that marked a turning point in his goalscoring form. Having only reached double figures in two of his first seven seasons, he would score at least 12 goals each campaign for the next nine years. More success followed in 1989 as he was once again among the goal-scorers in the final of the Coppa Italia and helped see off a strong Napoli outfit.
“[Mancini] was a brilliant footballer, of course, one of the best I ever had. His technique was fantasy,” recalled former coach Sven-Goran Eriksson.
1990 brought European Cup Winners’ Cup success for Mancini and Sampdoria for the first time as they saw off Anderlecht in the final. Vialli was the star man during the tournament, however Mancini happily played a supporting role, contributing two goals in the early stages of their run to the final. The following season saw the Blucerchiati lift the Scudetto for the only time in their history with Mancini scoring a number of crucial late goals to power them to the title.
In the summer of 1997, after a number of years of mid-table finishes, a 32-year-old Mancini opted to move to pastures new and joined Lazio for €4 million, following coach Sven-Goran Eriksson.
“He has always been mentally tough; he knew exactly what he wanted as a player, If he thought something, he said it and said it to everyone. He was my brains on the pitch and he understood everything,” Eriksson revealed.
A change of role ensued for Mancini as he dropped further into midfield but he still continued to be a winner. Six trophies in three years, including lifting the Scudetto on the final day of the 1999-2000 season made sure that the talismanic forward ended his career at the top as part of a double-winning side. He may not have been the most prolific of goal-scorers, but for Mancini it was always quality over quantity and will live long in the memory of Calcio fans around the world.