You won’t grasp Mancini’s brilliance simply by totting up the number of goals he scored, he never netted more than 15 goals in a season. Nor will you be able to understand his genius by trying to recover from the archives his great performances at international tournaments – there weren’t any. Even a look at his respectable trophy haul might leave you wondering just what it is that makes the ex-Sampdoria legend so revered in some quarters.
Much like his contemporary, Roberto Baggio, Mancini was a true artist whose chosen medium merely happened to be football. From such rarely gifted individuals – players who can pass, shoot, dribble, run and finish with total ease and control – it would be churlish to judge them by conventional or material standards. As a deep lying striker, Mancini possessed a lightness of touch, a clarity of vision and a blessedly cool head that any number of World or European Cups would have fallen short of rationalising or even adequately celebrating.
Sampdoria circa 1992
It is unfair to expect inspiration to come consistently but at the feet of Mancini, it truly did – often accompanied by a rebellious swagger that allowed him to swoon around the pitch utterly unfazed. Regularly the slight but fiercely combative man from Ancona would flick an unlikely pass, conjure an exquisite chip or arch through a sweetly-struck volley to light up stadiums all over the peninsula. His real gift was the seeming effortlessness with which his feather-touch would unsettle some of the best defences club football has ever seen.
Mancini’s most stirring seasons are of course those of the early 1990s, where, along with fellow ‘goal twin’ Giainluca Vialli, he led Sampdoria to its only ever Scudetto, and then to the final of the European Cup. What’s startling about Mancini during this time was not the impressive number of goals and assists he manufactured but the sheer, breathtaking quality of them. Every pass or finish displayed a deftness of touch and preternatural understanding of the game that simply has not – and perhaps cannot – be matched. One goal in particular comes to mind, from the 1990/1 season, against Napoli. Running from deep onto an Attilio Lombardo cross, Mancini takes it first time on the outside of his right boot, from the edge of the area, sending the ball singing off the near-post, into the net. Incredibly, displays of such glorious technique and quality was typical.
On the international stage Mancini’s talent, like that of Baggio, was hard to quantify. Unlike il divino cordino, he never had the fortune of a run in the team, at his peak, when it really mattered. After 36 caps, and just four goals, like most creative players of his era, he clashed with the shockingly narrow-minded Arrigo Sacchi. It remains a sin that the nazionale could not find a place for Mancini’s cosmic ability. With poor showings in the 1996 European Championships and the 1998 World Cup, when Mancini was still a driving force, it remains a tragedy he was not seduced out of retirement.
Fittingly, for such an unpredictable player, his greatest goal came for Lazio, not his beloved Samp. Against Parma, in 1999, he scored an effortless backheel-cum-flick, direct from a corner, at the near-post. Everything that made the mercurial Mancini so great is at work here – his presence of mind, elegance, ruthless instinct and delicate, precise execution. Had this been all Mancini had ever done as a professional, it would have been enough. Fortunately for those who enjoyed Serie A’s most recent golden period, almost every game he would produce a moment of delightful brilliance to reaffirm his genius.
You tube clip: HYPERLINK “http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iKbYca–bE0” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iKbYca–bE0
Name – Roberto Mancini
Age (D.O.B) – 45 (27/11/1964)
Position – Second striker
Clubs (Appearances/Goals) – Bologna (30/9), Sampdoria (424/132), Lazio (126/ 24), Leicester City (4/0)
Club level honours – Serie A (1990) Coppa Italia (1985, 1988, 1989, 1994); Italian Super Cup (1991); UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup (1990)
Nationality – Italian