Mancini issues casting call for young Italians

MILAN • Roberto Mancini has called on Serie A clubs to play more Italian players as he looks towards youth to get the Azzurri back to the peak of world football.

The new Italy coach will take charge of his first competitive game in today's Nations League opener against Poland in Bologna with the tough task of rekindling the country's love affair with their national side, decimated after the low of their World Cup fiasco.

The former Manchester City boss was appointed in May after the four-time winners' shock failure to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 1958.

His job will be to rebuild a new and vibrant side going into the European Championship in two years' time and heading towards the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

But according to statistics cited by Italian news agency Ansa, only 30 per cent of footballers who ply their trade in Serie A are eligible to play for the national team - compared to 60 per cent 12 years ago.

"The use of Italian players has never been so low here and so we need to invent something," the 53-year-old said.

"So for that reason I have called up certain (young) players. I believe that there are very good Italians, certainly better than so many foreigners who are playing in their place.

"We're trying to send a strong message. We're convinced that those who play well at youth level can do so even at a higher level.

"There are not many Italian players playing on a consistent basis. Because of this, we have included many young players to increase the number of players so we can get to know them better."

Four uncapped players including Roma midfielder Nicolo Zaniolo, who is 19 and has yet to start in a Serie A game, have been called up.

The Nations League - in which Italy will also be up against European champions Portugal in Group 3 - will have an impact on seeding for Euro 2020.

The Italians have plummeted to an all-time low of 21st in the Fifa rankings. They were eliminated in the group stage at the 2010 and 2014 World Cups, although they fared better at the European Championship, reaching the final in 2012 and the quarter-finals in 2016.

One of Mancini's first decisions on being appointed was also to recall controversial striker Mario Balotelli for the first time since the 2014 World Cup.

As well as 28-year-old Balotelli, Italy's strike options also include Lazio forward Ciro Immobile, 28, Fiorentina's Federico Chiesa, 20, and Juventus' Federico Bernardeschi, 24.

To anchor the younger players, veteran Juventus defender Giorgio Chiellini, 34, returns to the squad for the first time since Italy's World Cup play-off defeat by Sweden.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 07, 2018, with the headline 'Mancini issues casting call for young Italians'. Print Edition | Subscribe