Roberto Mancini’s recent Italy squad announcement again raised eyebrows. Much of the surprise focused on the inclusion of Mateo Retegui – a striker who, in the eyes of pretty much all Italian football fans, was an unknown.
But the Argentine-born Tigres forward wasn’t the only surprise inclusion. Simone Pafundi returned to the Italian first-team squad, despite having accumulated just nine minutes over two Serie A appearances with Udinese this season. His inclusion in a recent squad was bizarre, but his return is all the more confusing, even before taking other options into consideration.
With Italy trailing England in Naples and looking short of ideas, it was hard not to think of Mattia Zaccagni – the highest-scoring Italian player in 2022/23. The Lazio forward wasn’t even an option to come off the bench in Campania, as Mancini had opted to leave him at home in Rome. Why? Only Mancini knows.
“Zaccagni is having a great season and there’s no particular reason for leaving him out,” Mancini told the press, via TuttoMercatoWeb, with rumours swirling that there must have been something that the Italy boss didn’t like about the winger – be it his attitude or something else. “The national team is open to everybody and if he keeps playing at this level, he’ll have more chances.”
Lazio coach Maurizio Sarri was pleased to not see Zaccagni’s name on the Italy list: “I can tell you how I reacted to the news: ‘thank god’,” Sarri said, quizzed about Zaccagni‘s omission.
“He’s been playing every three or four days since January, and he’s been tired in the last few games. He needs to rest a bit and then to train. We haven’t trained properly since the end of December [because of fixture congestion] and I think a little bit of rest can do him good.”
Mattia Zaccagni Lazio form
Zaccagni’s winner in the recent Derby della Capitale over bitter rivals AS Roma was just the latest of his nine goals this season. He has been a real threat for Lazio under Sarri, and one of the most in-form Italian players around.
He has played 34 times across four competitions this season – Serie A, Europa League, Europa Conference League and Coppa Italia – and has established himself as an important player under Sarri in the capital.
Mancini’s decision to overlook Zaccagni would be questionable in normal circumstances, but to do it while also being without Ciro Immobile, Andrea Belotti, and other regulars up front makes it all the more confusing; to do it in order to take a teenager with no experience of first-team football makes it near impossible to understand.