Italy coach Roberto Mancini insists that he had valid reasons not to call up Lazio forward Mattia Zaccagni and Galatasaray counterpart Nicolo Zaniolo in his recent Euro 2024 Qualifiers squad, despite widespread demands for the former in particular to be included.
The Azzurri tactician decided against either player despite a shortage of attacking options, instead preferring to give Tigres‘ Argentina-born Mateo Retegui his international debut, although he netted twice in two games.
In an interview with Sky Sport 24, and as reported by Corriere dello Sport, Mancini claimed that he had footballing reasons not to select Zaccagni, despite being the leading Italian goalscorer in Serie A, and Zaniolo following his contentious move from AS Roma to Turkey.
Zaccagni and Zaniolo still have a chance
The former Manchester City coach argued that neither was ruled out permanently though, and he had proven himself willing to give previously unselected players an opportunity if they deserved it.
“The reasons are there, but everyone is talking without knowing anything. There are players who are under consideration for the national team,” Mancini insisted.
“The door is open to everyone, players who have not been in the national team for some time have been called up and this shows that everyone, if they deserve it, can return. For those who have not been called up there are more than valid reasons.”
There is a history of animosity involving Zaccagni and Zaniolo which stems from Zaniolo smiling whilst Roma fans sang songs at Zaccagni’s expense following the Europa Conference League final last season. There was a reaction from Zaccagni’s partner on social media, who used to date Zaniolo. The pair then reportedly put the issues behind them when they next met at Coverciano for an Italy camp.
Azzurri looking to youth
Mancini, who led Italy to Euro 2020 success but failed to secure qualification for the 2022 World Cup, revealed that he was looking to create a squad with a blend of experience and youth in order to develop over the coming years.
“Our old guard is said by many to be made up of veterans, but I don’t think this is the case. They are mature players, maybe they play a lot of matches and when they arrive to the national team they are tired, but when you have to prepare for an important event they are there,” Mancini went on.
“Having said that we are inserting some young players. We have been doing it for some time now, but they are guys who need time because some of them do not play in the first teams at their clubs.”
Retegui highlights lack of Serie A options
The ex-Inter and Lazio coach has previously bemoaned the lack of opportunities afforded to young players in Italy’s top flight, prompting him to look to Argentina for Retegui. The striker netted on his international debut in a 2-1 defeat to England, before scoring in a 2-0 win over Malta.
“It’s my job and I know that we have to take responsibility, we explain to the player what the situation is and what can happen, then it will depend on him to show that he has the qualities to still play for the national team,” Mancini explained.
“Retegui is a young guy, he needs time, if he comes to play in Italy as I keep reading, it will be even better, it will be an advantage for him
“If we found players in Italy we would be happier, also because we would not have the difficulties of acclimatisation to overcome. Having said that we too have had players taken away from us who had played for the Azzurri youth teams.”
Only Immobile in Serie A
Meanwhile, Mancini pointed to Lazio striker Ciro Immobile as the only serious striking option he had to select from at the top end of Serie A, with the other elite clubs turning to foreign talent instead.
“Among the top seven in Serie A, only one team has a starting Italian centre forward, I’m talking about Immobile and Lazio, and that’s a problem,” Mancini said.
“If we find oriundi who are good players for our national team, we evaluate them, follow them and then decide, but I repeat, if we could find them in Italy it would be easier.
“When you open a new cycle you have to put together a team that can amalgamate quickly, this is the problem with national teams. Now we play several matches in a week and you don’t have time to work, this is the problem that all the coaches have.”
Italy return to action in June when they face Spain in the UEFA Nations League semi-final in Enschede.