Whether still chasing silverware, desperately seeking to avoid relegation, or sitting comfortably mid-table, clubs across Europe are beginning to plan for next season even as this one runs down. Some will be searching for a new manager. One or two are already available. Since Simon Pegg was allowed to make a three flavored Cornetto trilogy, I thought I’d start a milk carton series on managers who have been away from the public eye for a time but may be on a few clubs’ radar as the off-season approaches. Laurent Blanc, Frank de Boer, and Jurgen Klinsmann have already featured. Now, it’s Roberto Mancini’s turn.
“I’ll take famous people who wear scarves for a thousand, Alex.”
Alright, “He won three Scudettos before coming to manage in England, where he watched Coronation Street to brush up on his English.”
If you’re a Jeopardy and football fan, you know the question is “Who is Roberto Mancini?”
Mancini has accomplished a great deal in football. As a player, he scored 201 goals in 738 appearances for Bologna, Sampdoria, Lazio, and Leicester City, as well as four more for the Azzurri while earning 36 caps as a forward. Usually, the next sentence in a paragraph such as this would begin with “When his playing days ended…” but Mancini embarked on his managerial career while still on loan with Leicester. Fiorentina, Lazio, Internazionale, Manchester City, Galatasaray, and finally Inter again, are listed on his CV. Mancini won at least one trophy at every stop, save the last, but has not found a new club since leaving San Siro just as the current campaign was set to begin.
In a sense, Mancini is Italy’s answer to Frank de Boer. The Dutchman played as a sweeper from the back then broke from his defensive roots to adopt a free-flowing attacking style as manager. Mancini is a former striker who emphasises sound defensive discipline as a coach. Life is strange. So is football.
Mancini became Fiorentina boss in 2001. Serie A was enduring a financial downturn as the millennium turned. A poor Italian economy and uncontrolled ultras were driving stadium attendance down. Several clubs were in perilous straits, the Viola being one. Forced to sell integral squad members, Mancini occasionally played himself. Despite limited resources, his side upset Juventus to win the Coppa Italia in his inaugural season. Success in Tuscany proved unsustainable, however. Mancini left in January, 2002, with Fiorentina on relegation’s brink. Without him, they did not survive.
His next stop was Lazio, taking over just before the 2001-02 campaign concluded. The Eagles’ books were in no better shape than Fiorentina’s when Mancini arrived but the Eternal City’s second club still fielded a better squad. Despite being forced to sell Hernan Crespo to Inter and Alessandro Nesta to Milan in the summer window, Mancini qualified Lazio for the Champions League, finishing fourth.
Lazio slipped to sixth in Mancini’s second season, his thin squad overtaxed by European competition. Nonetheless, the manager claimed his second Coppa Italia.
Moving to Inter in 2004 was perfect timing. His new club would finish second to Juve but be awarded the Scudetto when Calciopoli unfolded. The match-fixing and bribery scandal relegated the Turin giants, leaving a power vacuum Mancini’s Inter adroitly filled. He would win two more league titles legitimately, as well as a pair of domestic cups and a SuperCoppa. Roberto couldn’t crack the Champions League code, however, so was forced out. Club chairman Massimo Moratti was eager to replace him with some Portuguese upstart.
Mancini was on the “dole” for eighteen months while Jose Mourinho moulded Inter into a treble-winning side. His hefty severance settlement mandated he could not work for another club until October, 2009.
The deadline passed. Manchester City’s new Qatari owner came calling. The Italian reshaped predecessor Mark Hughes undisciplined attacking side into a more cohesive defensive unit, delivering City’s first Premier League title two seasons later. Still, his continued failure in the Champions League, coupled with the Qatari owners contracting Abramovich’s Syndrome (a chronic yearning for a more attractive playing style) led to the sack.
Having climbed football’s financial mountain, Mancini found himself on a steep downhill slope after leaving City. His tenure at Galatasaray began brightly with six victories straight out the gate but Gala would finish runners-up to old rivals Fenerbahce in the Super Lig. As he had done at each previous stop, Roberto did win a domestic cup. The board was not willing to match his spending ambitions for a second season, however, so coach and club did the “parted by mutual consent” dance.
Mancini returned to Inter for two seasons. The club was under new ownership. Following a mediocre eighth-placed finish in his first season, he lifted the Nerazzurri to fourth in 2015-16. After two dismal results in 2016-17’s pre-season, during which Inter were collectively outscored 10-2 by Bayern and Spurs, he was dismissed. Rumours suggested the scorelines were a convenient opportunity for Chinese owners Suning Holdings to rid themselves of a coach who persistently sought a larger transfer kitty.
Ironically, to replace Mancini, the naive Asian owners brought in an offensive-minded familiar face, Frank de Boer, despite the side leaking goals profusely. Predictably, that ended badly.
The most memorable moment during his second Inter stint was calling out Napoli boss Maurizio Sarri for his homophobic remarks. Sarri apparently seized on Mancini’s male model looks and penchant for wearing scarves to question his sexual orientation during a sideline spat.
Where could the Italian land next? His conservative tactics are certainly out of touch with the modern game’s obsession with positive football. Yet, Antonio Conte and Diego Simeone continue to succeed. Other clubs seeking to remedy defensive shortcomings could do worse than look his way.
For his part, Mancini’s negative experiences with cost-conscious ownership may cause him to be more selective regarding future clubs. Broadcasting money makes any Premier League club an attractive sugar daddy, but most Italian jobs unlikely.
Should Paris Saint-Germain decide to cut ties with Unai Emery after the disastrous collapse in the Champions League quarterfinal second leg at Camp Nou, a desire to shore up the back could make Mancini a candidate. His European failures may cause them to think twice, however.
The Chinese Super League is a distinct possibility but considering his willingness to speak out in support for LGBT issues, the Russian Premier League may not be on his radar.
Stepping in at well-heeled Napoli would be deliciously ironic. Even better, should Massimiliano Allegri choose to take on a new challenge at either Arsenal or PSG, a black and white scarf might soon be appearing in Juve’s technical area.
One thing is certain. A 52-year-old with Roberto Mancini’s resumé should end up somewhere.