AP Sports

Italy coach Roberto Mancini announces surprise resignation after up-and-down tenure

Italy coach Roberto Mancini surprisingly resigned on Sunday, ending an an up-and-down tenure with the national team that included a European Championship title in 2021 but also a failed qualification for last year’s World Cup.

The Italian soccer federation issued a short announcement saying that Mancini communicated his resignation “late last night,” adding that a new coach would be named “over the next days.”

Mancini posted on Instagram that his resignation was “a personal choice.”

“I salute and thank all of the players and fans that have accompanied me over these five years. I’ll always keep the extraordinary Euro 2020 victory in my heart,” Mancini added. “It was an honor.”

The federation doesn’t have much time to find a new coach with Euro 2024 qualifying matches against North Macedonia and Ukraine scheduled for Sept. 9 and 12, respectively.

Former Italy coach Antonio Conte, who left Tottenham in March, and Luciano Spalletti, who led Napoli to the Serie A title last season and said he wants to take a sabbatical this season, are among those being mentioned as a possible replacement.

Only nine days ago, the federation had announced that Mancini was being given the added responsibility of overseeing the under-20 and under-21 teams, too. He was under contract through the 2026 World Cup.

“It’s a bit surprising. Nobody expected it,” Renzo Ulivieri, the president of Italy’s coaches association, told the LaPresse news agency. “Nothing can be said until the reasons behind the resignation are known. It’s useless to say anything without knowing that.

“I’m sorry that he’s left. He did a good job despite those last things,” Ulivieri added, referring to the failed World Cup qualification.

Mancini was hired in May 2018 to revive the Azzurri after they also failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup under predecessor Gian Piero Ventura. And he did by adding flair and youth to a team that won admirers all over the continent during the year-delayed Euro 2020 — beating England at Wembley Stadium in a penalty shootout for the trophy.

Between 2018 and 2021, Mancini coached Italy to a world-record 37-match unbeaten run.

Mancini was hailed for his vision when he called up then-Roma forward Nicolò Zaniolo before he had ever played in Serie A, but he also struggled to find top talent from the Italian league, which has been hesitant to use young players at times.

A 1-0 semifinal playoff loss to 67th-ranked North Macedonia at home last year meant that the Azzurri missed the World Cup in Qatar.

It’s also been an emotional time for Mancini, who lost his good friend, former teammate and national team delegation chief Gianluca Vialli to pancreatic cancer in January. Vialli was 58.

Siniša Mihajlović, another of Mancini’s former teammates and then a fellow coach, died three weeks before Vialli following a long battle with leukemia. He was 53.

It’s unclear what’s next for the 58-year-old Mancini, who was a leading club coach before taking over the national team, having won league titles at both Inter Milan and Manchester City.

Mancini was also a standout player for Sampdoria, Lazio and Italy.

Mancini’s exit puts the federation in complete rebuilding mode, with women’s coach Milena Bertolini having also announced her resignation after the Azzurre failed to advance from the Women’s World Cup group stage.

Mancini’s last match in charge was a 3-2 win over the host Netherlands in the Nations League final four third-place match on June 18.

Having lost its opening Euro 2024 qualifier to England, Italy is also facing an uphill battle to qualify for next year’s tournament in Germany.


AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/Soccer