This Italy team has had something special about it from the beginning of this cycle. Roberto Mancini took over this team when they were in a very difficult situation as they had missed out on the 2018 Copa Mundial, the first time the country had failed to do so in 60 años.
Mancini was clear about his approach from day one: the aim was to make all fans, all Italians, rediscover their love for the national team. It was necessary to rediscover the spirit for the Azzurri after so many difficult years. That is the secret of this magical Italian team: anyone who has been called up by Mancini has played with this spirit and the desire to make Italians fall back in love with the team.
It was like Italian football had experienced a disaster and Mancini cleared up the rubble. He found many young talented players who perhaps had not been able to make it at a big club and then gelled them together by finding a collective identity in the tactics and the way the team plays. This is a different Italy: they are ready to go out and play good attacking football and are intertwined with the spirit of their fans. The fact that there are several young players helps because Mancini has always been good at giving youth a chance.
Mancini reminds me of José Mourinho, whom I had at Chelsea, in the way he manages a team. He has a very strong and direct relationship with the players; there is respect but also a constant dialogue that brings a very positive atmosphere around the team. Tactically he reminds me of another of my former managers, Massimiliano Allegri, because he is aware that just because you have many good individual players it does not mean the team will be successful. You need to know how to make them work together, which Allegri has done in Serie A for many years with Milan and Juventus.
Mancini has also benefitted from having players with a special charisma in the team. Lorenzo Insigne and Jorginho are two leaders in their clubs and have brought their leadership qualities to the national team. But in my opinion the real secret of this Italy is the players who do not play that much: no one complains, no one creates any problems. On the contrary, the ones who are playing are always supported by their teammates and encouraged to do their best.
That is not an easy atmosphere to create, especially when there are a lot of high-profile players but I know for a fact that Salvatore Sirigu and Alex Meret, the second and third-choice goalkeepers are very supportive to the excellent young goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma. The situation is similar to what I and Angelo Peruzzi did with Gigi Buffon in 2006, without any envy – only by transmitting support and strength. This makes the difference in a tournament.
Having a good team dynamic is important at tournaments. You spend the whole day with your teammates, you share private things with them – it is as if they are your family for the duration of the tournament. If there are problems within the squad it will show on the pitch. This Italy reminds me a lot of 2006: en el momento, Marcello Lippi chose the best players but also players on the basis of the creation of a real group.
Mancini did the same this year, many good players were left out but the choice was made from the perspective of a serious, strongly knit group. A real family, as happened in 2006. I still remember the spirit and unity of that team, we won the World Cup against France in Berlin … and after 15 years we are all still in contact with each other in a WhatsApp group. I’m sure that Mancini’s players will feel the same love for each other for many years.
Now for the final. England will be a formidable opponent because they are very well-organised. They are also a physical team, as we saw against Denmark, and they have been strong and focused. I am convinced that Italy can win it because they arrive at the final with the right mentality. In this type of match you always manage to give something special – and doing it at Wembley against England will be a historic opportunity for everyone.
My memories from that day in 2006 in Berlin? We had many stars such as Francesco Totti, Alessandro del Piero and many others, who already had great international experience. In the dressing room before the game there was a lot of tension but also the right concentration: we were sure we could win despite facing a fantastic team.
We were aware of our qualities; if you get all the way to the final it can never be a coincidence. This Italy team have many young players so it will be a different feeling to when we were in the final but we have to approach the game in a calm manner. I am sure Mancini is working on this because finals are won with these small but important details.