The year’s most anticipated football tournament, UEFA EURO 2020, finished this summer. The matches were initially supposed to be on schedule, but the COVID-19 pandemic forced a change, so it had to be postponed for the whole year. Such a long wait only fuelled interest in the matches, and fans from all over the world were eagerly awaiting the exciting battles on the football fields of Europe. In the final at Wembley Stadium in London, Italy defeated England in front of 67,000 spectators in a dramatic penalty shoot-out to claim the main European trophy.
Today, we’ll try to get to the bottom of why the Azzurri remained so successful at the European Championships.
How Roberto Mancini became Italy head coach
Roberto Mancini took charge of the national team in 2018 when it was in complete chaos. Defeat to Sweden in the tie denied the Italians a trip to the World Cup in Russia, which can rightly be regarded as a failure as Italy had never missed out on a major football tournament until then.
The performance of coach Gian Piero Ventura was deemed unsatisfactory, and he resigned, handing the place to Roberto Mancini. It was a special occasion for Mancini to be invited as head coach because Roberto’s relationship with the national team had not been good when he was a player. Being a very young player, Mancini got into trouble. Going for his first-ever training camp with the national team, held in New York, Roberto went to a nightclub with teammates, disappointing the coach and losing his confidence.
Mancini had to wait for the next call-up to the national team for five years. However, by this time, the team has changed the coach. The head of the team was the legendary Arrigo Sacchi, with whom Mancini had a conflict. As a result, he missed the World Cup in 1994, at which Italy took second place, losing in a penalty shoot-out to the Brazilians.
Not long after, Mancini ended his career as a player, and his association with the national team was cut short until 2018. After several setbacks as a player, Mancini had the chance to prove himself as a coach, and he took it. But what was so unique that Mancini needed to make a historic impact at EURO-2020?
A change in playing style
Suppose you ask any fan about the main distinguishing feature of Italian football. In that case, the most common answer will be an impenetrable defence or “catenaccio,” a scheme of play emphasizing defence and counter-attacking. Indeed, Italy’s most popular scoreline is 1-0 because when they score a goal, the Italians go into defence and try to defend their advantage.
The first thing Mancini did after joining the team was to change the scheme and philosophy of the game. Italy has tried to attack in all the European Championship qualifiers and at the tournament itself, even in the lead. You can easily find every recent Italy game result at https://bookmaker-ratings.com/news/ and see for yourself. The clearest example of this is the quarter-final game against Belgium, when, dominating the game, the Italians kept up their attacks and continued to create chances at Courtois’ goal with a possession percentage of close to 70%.
Attracting young players
The Italian national team has always been renowned for having many established and experienced players in their squad. With Buffon, who defended the goal of the Squadra Azzurra until he was almost 40 years old, being the only one to do so.
However, even in this aspect of the team’s management, Mancini has made significant changes in his confidence in young players. Chiesa (23), Locatelli (23), Bastoni (22), Pessina (24), Donnarumma (22) and Barella (24) were included in the final squad. Each of these players made a significant contribution to the team’s final result. For example, Chiesa scored against Spain in the semi-final, Barella opened the scoring in the quarter-final game against Belgium, Locatelli completed the double against Switzerland, Pessina scored in the 1/8 against Austria, Donnarumma saved three penalties in the final of the tournament.
Perfect match management
The difference between a good coach and a great coach is the ability to make substitutions at the right moment to change the course of the match. Roberto Martinez, Belgium’s head coach, does not have that skill because there is no other way to explain his inaction when the team loses to the Italians and the players present on the field fail to do anything. As a result, a deserved departure of the “golden” generation of Belgians at the 1/4 final stage.
Roberto Mancini, unlike his counterpart, made ideal changes to the game when events on the pitch demanded it. For example, in the final, Mancini replaced Ciro Immobile when it was clear that the forward was no match for the prominent English defenders and that a pure striker was unnecessary. The substitute Berardi, who is not a striker and performs an entirely different function, forced the defenders to reorganise, thereby confusing them and refreshing the game.