When it comes to sports in general, ringing changes to a winning side is one of the most challenging tasks that a manager can face. “Never change a winning horse” they say. After all, how is a coach supposed to drop a bunch of players who lent him a big serving hand in his greatest achievements? The answer is simple: He doesn’t.
At least not until it’s too late, and his past success has already consumed his future. In this regard, Roberto Mancini wasn’t the first international-winning manager to commit the same sin, as he joins his loyalists in their great downfall.
An Italian Tradition
In fact, the current Azzurri boss isn’t even the first Italy manager to endure the same fate. Following the 1986 World Cup, Enzo Bearzot had to resign from his post following a disappointing tournament for the reigning champions. The legendary tactician was heavily criticized for primarily relying on his 1982 winning squad, with several players already passed their primes at the time.
Marcello Lippi’s story is almost identical. The former Juventus manager led the country towards its last World Cup triumph in 2006. He left his post immediately afterwards, before making a surprising return in 2008. His successor and predecessor Roberto Donadoni found little success during his brief spell, but at least he tried to impose some necessary changes to the squad.
Italy rejoiced upon hearing the news of Lippi’s return, but the World Cup winner had few original ideas at the time. He simply undid all the changes made during Donadoni’s regime (famously excluding Antonio Cassano throughout his spell despite being his generation’s most talented player) and bringing back his old favorites.
This proved to be the recipe for a perfect disaster, as the Azzurri bowed out of the African World Cup as early as the group stage after failing to register a single win against Paraguay, New Zealand and Slovakia.
A Global Phenomenon
This phenomenon doesn’t only apply to Mancini and the other Italy managers who won international tournaments, but it is one witnessed throughout the globe. In the last decade or so, we witnessed the great rise and fall of Vicente Del Bosque’s Spain and Joachim Low’s Germany. Two World Cup winning managers who failed to ring changes at the right timing, and were unceremoniously sent packing.
It’s suffice to note that in the last three editions of the World Cup, the defending champions were repeatedly knocked out from the group stage despite having the very same triumphant manager at the helm from the previous winning campaign. That is mostly because these tacticians have decided to rely on the old guards who were at the time on their last leg. It’s suffice to mention Fabio Cannavaro and Gianluca Zambrotta in 2010, or Sami Khedira and Mezut Ozil in 2018.
Mancini Joins the List
To be fair with Mancini, when Italy hosted North Macedonia in Palermo, it was only eight months past the glorious Euro 2020 campaign. Surely the circumstances can’t witness dramatic changes during this short span of time, right?
And yet, it’s the small details that make the difference, as we were once again reminded by the shocking outcome of the battle at the Renzo Barbera.
Yes, the Azzurri have a shortage upfront, but relying once again on Ciro Immobile proved to be fruitless. During his second half cameo, Giacomo Raspadori showcased the type of skills and determination that the team needed from the very start.
On another note, Nicolò Barella and Lorenzo Insigne have been out of sorts recently, so the likes of Matteo Politano, Lorenzo Pellegrini and Sandro Tonali would have arguably made for better choices. Moreover, the paradoxical situation of Davide Calabria and Alessandro Florenzi has been well-illustrated in another Cult of Calcio article even prior to kickoff.
Although we’re in no position to question the tactical choices of a proven winning manager who boasts an impressive track record, it’s almost too obvious that the members of his Euro 2020 were given the benefit of the doubt, even when short on form and confidence.
However, blaming Mancini for favoring his old Italy pupils is absolutely pointless. After all, his blunder has has been previously committed by older and more experienced managers as we mentioned above. His errors were simply inevitable. Perhaps even Fated. Like a captain who opts to drown with his trusted crew rather than seeking an escape rope.
In conclusion, the Sampdoria legend joins an elusive club of great tacticians who decided to join their loyalists’ downfall rather than betray their trust, even if it came at the expense of a mourning nation.