Gianluigi Donnarumma, Nicolò Barella, Nicolò Zaniolo; all three young, all three Italian, all three extraordinarily talented and therefore all three symbolizing the new Italy of Roberto Mancini, Monday evening opponent of the Dutch national team in Amsterdam.
Mancini has mugged the Italian team again, after the missed World Cup in Russia. The European Championship was convincingly achieved, with ten victories in as many qualifying games, and several talents got a chance.
Donnarumma (now 21), Barella (23) and Zaniolo (21), but also Sandro Tonali (20), Stefano Sensi (25), Federico Chiesa (22) and Alessio Romagnoli (25) got the confidence and paid it back.
Mancini looks beyond age and seems to attach little value to the club where someone plays. Barella and Tonali debuted as players of Cagliari and Brescia, while little Sassuolo also regularly delivers an international.
“Mancini has unleashed a revolution”, says Fabio Licari, follower of the national team for La Gazzetta dello Sport. “Italy is not like other countries, we are not used to have such a young team. In the past, good young players stayed in the under 21, unlike De Ligt at Holland”
“I think Mancini has changed something permanently; if we have a very good 20-year-old player in the future, he’ll play in the national team and not in the under 21. It’s a tipping point, he’s changed the philosophy and I don’t think we’re going back to the way it was.”
And why should Italy? Mancini’s philosophy seems to work. Licari: “I have to admit that I didn’t think Mancini was suitable for the Italian team. But he turned out to be perfect as a psychologist, he convinced every player of his project. And he’s a good tactician, he put players in their best position.”
Apart from the ten qualifying victories, what stands out is the football that puts Italy on the mat. The times of ‘catenaccio’ are finished in the past, the ‘Azzurri’ cherish the possession of the ball in an unItalian way and look for the attack where possible.
“Mancini decided: we should play as Barcelona and Manchester City, as the best teams in Europe. I can’t remember an Italy like this, they won ten times in the European Championship qualification and played very well, spectacularly. It’s really a different team.”
“The opponents weren’t very good, no”, admits the journalist of La Gazzetta dello Sport. “In that respect, we have to take one more step before I become completely convinced: that they are showing it against a country like Germany, France or the Netherlands”
“But you have to know: Italy’s biggest problem normally is that we play bad against the bad teams and good against big countries like Germany and France. Against countries like Luxembourg or Finland we scored once and then looked tired and lazy. Now we won 9-1 against Armenia. We always want to dominate these days, always score once more.”
The Italians do that without a Roberto Baggio- or Francesco Totti-figure, big celebrities are missing in ‘La Squadra Azzurra’.
Asked for the star of this Italy Licari sighs deeply. Then: “Maybe Marco Verratti, by name. And Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini have a lot of experience. But in the future Zaniolo will be the star. If he wants to, he’ll be the best.”
The 21-year-old Zaniolo is a teammate of Justin Kluivert at AS Roma and is known as a great talent. Licari is in any case convinced. “I can’t remember a player like Zaniolo in the last ten years. He really is unbelievable. There’s no limit to it, believe me. It’s impossible to stop him physically. He’s fast, his shot is as good as Totti’s and he can play anywhere.”
“The problem is just his professionalism. If he had the attitude of Buffon, Cannavaro or Pirlo, he would become the next Italian superstar. Maybe he’ll change, because what Zaniolo can do is unbelievable.”