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Saudi Arabia appoint Italy’s Roberto Mancini as national team coach

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Saudi Arabia appoint Italy’s Roberto Mancini as national team coach
Mancini’s first major task will be to lead the team at the Asian Cup in Qatar next year [File: Frank Augstein/AP Photo]

Published in AlJazeera, on Aug 28th, 2023,

Mancini, who led Italy to the Euro 2020 title but failed to take them to the Qatar World Cup, had quit as Azzurri boss earlier this month.

Roberto Mancini has been named as the new coach of the Saudi Arabia national team on a deal reported to be worth more than $25m a year, after his surprise decision to quit the Italy job earlier this month.

The Saudis, who beat eventual champions Argentina at last year’s World Cup in Qatar, have been without a coach since Herve Renard left to take charge of France women’s team.

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Mancini, 58, led Italy to the Euro 2020 title but failed to qualify for last year’s World Cup.

“I am immensely honoured to be offered the position as Saudi Arabia national team manager,” Mancini, who has signed a four-year contract, said on Sunday.

“I believe this is a great opportunity for me, to experience football in a new country, especially with the growing popularity of football in Asia.”

He added: “The presence of top players in the Saudi Pro League indicates the potential for growth in the national football scene.”

Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest crude oil exporter, has made waves this summer by buying a host of players from European clubs for teams in the Saudi Pro League.

Shock move

Mancini’s resignation from the Italy job came as a shock, as earlier this month he had been handed responsibility for the country’s Under-21 and Under-20 teams.

He was heavily criticised for his decision especially following early reports that he was set to accept a mega-money move to Saudi, which he denied was the reason behind his resignation.

Mancini, who was replaced by former Napoli coach Luciano Spalletti, had a mixed time in his five years as Italy coach.

Victory at Euro 2020 seemed to revitalise a troubled football nation. But the Azzurri failed to qualify for last year’s World Cup following a disastrous play-off defeat to North Macedonia, the second straight time they missed the world’s biggest football tournament.

As a player, Mancini won the 1991 Serie A title and four Italian Cups with long-time club Sampdoria, where he starred in attack alongside recently-deceased Gianluca Vialli.

Newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport reported on Sunday that Mancini’s contract in Saudi Arabia would come with an annual salary of 25 million euros ($27m).

A Saudi Arabian Football Federation’s (SAFF) statement did not disclose his salary.

“The appointment confirms the new era of growth for the Saudi Arabian national team and marks a new milestone in Mancini’s distinguished career,” the Saudi federation said in a statement confirming Mancini’s appointment.

Mancini was due to arrive in the Saudi capital Riyadh on Monday to be presented to the media.

“We are delighted to welcome Roberto Mancini to lead the Green Falcons,” SAFF President Yasser al-Misehal said.

“His experience and proven track record at club and international level marks a significant step towards achieving our goals in international football.

“Roberto believes in Saudi football and our desire to develop top competitive players and take them to new heights on the world stage – including the Asian Cup in Qatar and qualification for the 2026 World Cup … We’re a footballing nation and we [are] continuing to invest at every level in our journey to compete with the best in the world on and off the pitch.”

One eye on Asian Cup

His first match with the team is set for September 8, an international friendly against Costa Rica at St James’ Park, home of Newcastle which is owned by the Saudi sovereign wealth fund.

Another friendly against South Korea is scheduled to be held in the English city on September 12.

The Asian Cup, hosted by defending champions Qatar, starts in January. The Saudis, who will host the tournament in 2027, are drawn in a group with Kyrgyzstan, Oman and Thailand.

Before that there are two World Cup qualifiers in November – against Jordan and either Cambodia or Pakistan. Tajikistan is also in Group G.

“The whole world recognises the enormous potential of the Saudi Arabia national team during their outstanding performance at the World Cup,” Mancini said. “The scenes of the fans following that victory [were] immense.

“They left their mark on the global stage, filling Saudi Arabian football fans with immense pride and accelerating the nation’s footballing ambitions. We have the potential to improve further. The squad is strong with talented players. I believe we have what it takes to elevate our game if we work hard.”

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