Half of management is about picking the right team at the beginning of the match, but the other half is about responding during the game, and that is what Mancini did better than any other coach at Euro 2020.
At one point in the first half of the Euro 2020 final, Roberto Mancini, with his Azzurri anorak covering his custom-made Armani suit, for the first time in the tournament, began to lose his cool.
England were 1-0 up after two minutes and things were not quite going to plan for the former Manchester City boss, and it began to show, Mancini furiously rearranging his silver fringe as he barked out instructions to his team.
Say what you will about Gareth Southgate’s team selection, but the truth is he got it right initially, and Mancini agreed, the Italy manager forced into making a double-substitution just ten minutes after half time.
England’s back three were stifling Ciro Immobile and not allowing Italy any serious possession close to Jordan Pickford’s goal, but the introduction of Domenico Berardi in place of the Italy striker caused the England back line far more problems, allowing Lorenzo Insigne to adopt a more central position and pick up the ball in between the lines.
This was arguably the tactical decision that won Italy the European Championship, with the Azzurri creating far more chances following the introduction of Berardi on 55 minutes; their expected goals output rocketing from 0.5 to 2.69 after the introduction of the Sassuolo man.
Ultimately, Euro 2020 was won by the team with the best manager, and Mancini deserves plenty of credit for taking a side that failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, and turning them into an unstoppable machine; the Italians now unbeaten in their last 34 matches.
International management is undoubtedly very different to club management. Some coaches thrive in the international set up, while some find it incredibly difficult to be without their players for the vast majority of the year.
Mancini seems to have the best of both at his disposal, and it really is amazing to see how well-drilled his Italy side are.
He selected players from 12 different clubs in his 26-man squad, and while that has undoubtedly helped this team form a close bond, it must have made it difficult to get everyone to buy into the style of football the ex-Inter Milan manager was determined to play.
Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci must have been wary when Mancini presented his plans for an aggressive, high-pressing, high-octane Italy team, particularly with his determination to play four at the back; those two central-defenders having been used to playing in a deep back three for the majority of their careers.
But despite the two full-backs playing almost as wingers, leaving Jorginho to fill in at times as a third centre-back, it worked. Italy dominated the majority of games and even when they didn't, they never looked completely overrun or out of their depth.
Mancini deserves credit for the team he has built, but also for his in-game management, and it is this that won the tournament for the Italians.
Against Austria, when Italy were struggling to create any chances of real note, Mancini brought on Matteo Pessina, and 16 minutes later, Federico Chiesa. Extra-time came along and Chiesa scored Italy’s first, while Pessina grabbed the second, the second time in the tournament the Atalanta midfielder had come off the bench to score a crucial goal.
Then, against Belgium, after Romelu Lukaku’s penalty earned the Red Devils a way back into the game, Mancini used his bench to great effect, freshening up his side with the introductions of Byran Cristante, Andrea Belotti and Domenico Berardi, all arguably inferior players to the ones they replaced technically, but bringing a much-needed energy and size to the team that helped them see out the remainder of the game.
Italy’s semi-final against Spain was perhaps the most contentious match of Mancini’s reign so far, with the Spaniards dominating possession, and when Chiesa scored in the 60th minute, the Italy boss substituted Immobile for Berardi, the same change he made in the final.
While this substitution worked in the final, it was arguably a mistake in the semi as it forced Italy back and Spain forward, with no striker to help the Italians get out, and Italy did concede a late Alvaro Morata goal. Ultimately though, Italy went through on penalties and set up a final with England.
These are the fine margins of knockout football, but in the end, Mancini’s in-game substitutions proved the key to Italy’s success.
Like Mancini, Southgate inherited a team in dire straits, England having been knocked out of Euro 2016 by Iceland before the Sam Allardyce scandal thrust the former Middlesbrough boss into the job, and like Mancini, Southgate has succeeded in creating a club-like atmosphere with England.
Both managers deserve credit for the squads they have built, but experience shone through on Sunday as Mancini made bold moves, while Southgate remained content to sit back and attempt to see out the game.
Southgate won the battle at the beginning of the match, but as Mancini responded, it was his changes that made the difference, and it was ultimately the Italy manager that won the war.