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Mancini looking for answers before Euro qualifying opener with England

And while the rest of the world’s top teams prepared for Qatar
Roberto Mancini won Euro 2020 with Italy but failed to qualify the Azzurri for the World Cup. AFP
Roberto Mancini won Euro 2020 with Italy but failed to qualify the Azzurri for the World Cup. AFP

Roberto Mancini is wondering where the next generation of Italian talent is going to come from as the Azzurri begin their Euro 2024 qualifying campaign on Thursday with the visit of England.

Italy coach Mancini is in the process of another rebuild after the European champions missed out last year’s World Cup following a second straight disastrous play-off defeat.

The euphoria of beating England at Wembley in the Euro 2020 final had well and truly dissipated by the time North Macedonia stunned Italy last year.

And while the rest of the world’s top teams prepared for Qatar, Italian football was again pondering its place in the world, with Mancini lamenting a lack of young players in a country which used to be a conveyor belt of world class talent.

Italy has three clubs in the Champions League quarter-finals for the first time since 2006, with three more in the last eight for Europe’s other two competitions, but Mancini is not hailing a rare continental success story for Serie A.

“They (Napoli, AC Milan and Inter Milan) have seven or eight Italians in the team between them… This is the reality and we need to do something different,” Mancini told reporters on Monday.

“Italian football hasn’t been reborn… If there were 33 Italians on the pitch, maybe, even half of them being Italian would be enough.”

Mancini has lamented in particular a lack of forwards and used Leeds United winger Willy Gnonto as an example of how young talent is overlooked by Serie A clubs.

However he has also been criticised for some of the selections in his 30-man squad for the Thursday’s match in Naples, which includes a first call-up for Argentina-born Tigre striker Mateo Retegui.

Udinese defender Destiny Udogie, who will move to Tottenham next season, Juventus midfielder Nicolo Fagioli and Lazio pair Mattia Zaccagni and Nicolo Casale are the omissions which have most befuddled fans.

Strength in depth

Zaccagni has scored nine times for Lazio this season, including the winner in Sunday’s Rome derby, and him missing out while Federico Chiesa was selected – before succumbing to yet another injury – has raised eyebrows.

Italy will face both England and North Macedonia in Group C, a reminder of both the highs and lows of Mancini’s reign, which began in 2018 with uncharacteristically swashbuckling football before falling into the same pit of despair which led to him being hired in the first place.

Making the Nations League final four while also relegating England from the top tier was a welcome plus but failed to change a general feeling in Italy that the national team is on another downturn.

Mancini and England boss Gareth Southgate will be rivals again on Thursday but both their sides will be favourites to take the two qualifying spots available in the five-team group which also includes Ukraine and Malta.

Southgate too has said he is concerned about strength in depth despite a host of talented young players coming through to England’s senior squad in recent years, echoing a similar sentiment expressed by Rudi Voeller when he was made the new director of Germany’s national side in January.

“You’d love to have that depth, but we are shorter than the other big nations on depth of selection. I’m happy with the quality we have to pick from, but in certain positions we are short of depth,” Southgate said last week.

“Those numbers are deteriorating rapidly in the Premier League, it’s not a concern for me in the next 18 months but in four of five years time, we have to be really careful on that.”

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