Soccer

MICAH RICHARDS and ROBERTO MANCINI go down memory lane

‘How often do you think about that QPR game?’ ‘All the time… I still get goosebumps!’: MICAH RICHARDS and ROBERTO MANCINI go down memory lane to relive Man City’s amazing title, Italy’s Euro 2020 triumph – and Mario Balotelli’s comeback!

  • Sportsmail’s Micah Richards met with his former Man City boss Roberto Mancini
  • The Italy manager led Man City to their first Premier League title back in 2012
  • The pair reminisce about Sergio Aguero’s dramatic last-gasp winner against QPR
  • Mancini also discusses Italy’s impressive Euro 2020 win at England’s expense 
  • He also explains why Richards’ former team-mate Mario Balotelli is with Italy

Immediately it is obvious this will be no ordinary hour. Peering around a door frame with a glint in his eye, ROBERTO MANCINI is keeping tabs on one of his former players.

‘Hey!’ shouts Mancini. ‘It is you! The greatest defender in the world!’

Suddenly a room in Coverciano, the Italian Football Federation’s picturesque headquarters, is filled with laughter. 

Sportsmail columnist Micah Richards met up with his former Man City boss Roberto Mancini

MICAH RICHARDS has travelled to Florence to see his old manager and the meeting does not disappoint. It is nine years since they last worked together but, quickly, it is like old times.

Soon, some familiar faces appear. Attilio Lombardo and Fausto Salsano, members of Mancini’s backroom staff in Manchester who remain by his side, join the reunion. 

There is also an appearance from the great Gianluca Vialli, whose bond with Italy’s head coach spans four decades.

This, clearly, is a good time to convene with Mancini, who is still gleaming from the buzz of winning Euro 2020 – the 26th honour of his glittering career – for a rare interview. 

DOMINIC KING listened in as one of the game’s leading managers opened up on triumph, adversity and making football history.

A MANCHESTER LOVE AFFAIR

The first place to start is Mancini’s appointment as City manager in December 2009. They had seen him lead Inter Milan to success in Serie A and wanted him to do the same for them.

RICHARDS: When you first came, floodlights were installed at the training ground so we could start training at 6pm! Everyone was thinking you were crazy!

MANCINI: Ha! It used be 10:30am, one hour! There were four or five players who were like this (pretends to take aim with a rifle) they wanted to shoot me! You remember the first month? It was very difficult but I was lucky because we won four games in a row.

It was so different from Italy – new players, a different mentality. The best league in the world, many supporters in the stadium who are only there to support their team. In the end, we changed the situation in Manchester, didn’t we?

Richards travelled to the home of the Italian football team in Florence to chat with Mancini

Mancini was hired by City in December 2009 as they desperately pursued the league title

RICHARDS: You used to check everything on my plates to see what I was eating…

MANCINI (theatrically): Oh! Your plates? Your plates! Everything! Chicken! Meat! Pasta! Vegetables! Bread! French fries! Then the ketchup on the top!

RICHARDS (laughing): Do you remember this?

On an iPad, Mancini is shown a picture of the pair hugging after Richards had scored the winner in the FA Cup quarter-final against Reading in March 2011.

MANCINI (faking surprise): Who is this?

RICHARDS: The game before was against Dynamo Kiev in the Europa League. You had blamed me for the first goal when we lost 2-0. Actually, you blamed me – and Mario (Balotelli) – for everything! The ball had gone over Vincent Kompany’s head and their striker came in behind me. At half-time, you wanted to kill me!

Mancini hugs Richards after he scored the winner in the FA Cup quarter-final against Reading in March 2011

MANCINI: No, come on!

RICHARDS: Afterwards, I went crazy. I kicked a plate of sandwiches over! But this picture was from the game after, at Reading. I scored a header and afterwards I came over to hug you… all the players were calling me teacher’s pet!

MANCINI: I liked you because you wanted to improve. When you trained? Always 100 per cent.

RICHARDS: Before you came, I’d played for England aged 18. I thought I was one of the best around but you came and you said to me: “No, no, no… tactically – you can improve.” So I wanted to learn from you. Some players wouldn’t accept that criticism.

MANCINI: Sometimes in England, young players don’t think about the tactical situation. They have everything: they run a lot, they fight, they have good technique. But sometimes, you have to play in a good position. If you want to have a good team, to play good football, you must have tactics.

93:20

City did have a good team and they played brilliant football, the culmination of it all was one glorious day in May 2012 when they became champions of England for the first time in 44 years. They overcame the odds against Queens Park Rangers that day as they did all season.

RICHARDS: Do you remember the game when Yaya Toure was at the Africa Cup of Nations?

MANCINI: Everton!

RICHARDS: I knew you would remember… It was January 31, 2012 to be precise! It’s almost 10 years to the day.

Mancini led Manchester City to their dramatic Premier League title win back in 2012 

MANCINI: We were in a difficult moment and I needed to get a reaction from you all. Oh Everton… A very, very bad stadium! Always we had a problem there, we lost 1-0. I was thinking to myself: “How do I get a reaction from these players?” So I said to you: “Without Yaya Toure, you are a **** team!”

I walked off. All the players were going crazy at me, shouting! But after this game, we won nearly every game to the end.

RICHARDS: Do you understand how much you did for Manchester City? I don’t suppose as a manager you look back that often but you were the one who started this period…

MANCINI: The first six months, we fought all the way to the last game to get into the Champions League. We lost 1-0 at home to Tottenham. Second year, we won the FA Cup and finished third with the same points like Chelsea. The third year we won the league. And this Premier League was incredible.

RICHARDS: How often do you think about the QPR game?

MANCINI (rubs his arms to emphasise his emotions): All the time… I get the goose-bumps – one of the best victories ever.

Sergio Aguero scored a dramatic late winner against QPR at the Etihad to seal the title

It remains one of the most thrilling moments in football history as City denied rivals United

RICHARDS: You were superstitious. I played the first half of the season. In the second half, I had hamstring issues so I was a substitute a lot more. You would always make a change if we were leading and I was guaranteed to get on but in those last six games, we needed to score and I didn’t get to come on so much…

MANCINI: Someone showed me a clip of the goals recently. I was so emotional seeing it. The goal Sergio scored was for every one of us. In the last two minutes, I’m thinking to myself: “we cannot lose this game, we just cannot lose this game.” But football is like this.

Nobody remembers that Yaya was off the pitch, injured. Nigel De Jong was on. The last 10 minutes, we had five strikers on the pitch. They had one man less, as (Joey) Barton had been sent off. We had a lot of chances to score but still we are losing 1-2.

RICHARDS: Were you more nervous in the penalty shootout at Euro 2020 or the final four minutes against QPR?

In the bedlam after Aguero’s goal, Mancini could not contain his celebrations at the Etihad

MANCINI: It’s different, no? The penalties were so very difficult. You are there waiting. You hope the opponent shoots (wide) or the keeper saves. In the last four minutes? That was just incredible, very incredible. I hope one day someone will make a film about it.

Manchester opened my mind to a totally different way. This is very, very important for a manager, to come to England. Manchester City is a piece of my life, a piece of my heart. The fans, they supported me always. To win the Premier League? What can I say? They were always there for me.

I am proud because we really changed things in Manchester. With United, who had (Sir Alex) Ferguson, it was difficult so to achieve what we did makes me very happy, very proud. This is good because that means, when you have won, you have a place in the history of the club.

ONE GOLDEN SUMMER

Mancini knows what it takes to gets teams over the line in knockout football and won cups with Fiorentina, Lazio, Inter Milan, City and Galatasary. 

Nothing, though, compared to the European Champions. He lifted Italian football from the depths of missing out on the 2018 World Cup to the summit after beating England in the final at Wembley.

RICHARDS: What comes to your mind when you see this?

Mancini is shown a picture of him draped in the Italian flag, covered in tickertape and cradling the Henri Delaunay trophy.

MANCINI (momentarily quiet): Ah… Very, very good memory about this… The feeling was incredible because it was a very difficult game, eh? Wembley… England… 70,000 people against us! (laughs)

Mancini now boasts success on the international stage having won Euro 2020 with Italy

RICHARDS: When people talked about Italy before the tournament, I felt they weren’t taking you as seriously as they needed to. Anyone who asked me, I said to them: “Mancini! Be careful…”

MANCINI: We believed we could do it but there were four or five teams better than us to start with. It wasn’t easy but I think, at the end, we deserved to win.

RICHARDS: How did you feel when you saw Gareth Southgate – could you say anything to him?

MANCINI: Gareth is a good guy. When you lose like that, it is difficult. For me, winning that way, it is also difficult. What could I say to him? It is clear to me he has done a good job, a semi-final in the World Cup and final in the European Championship.

To lose a final at home? He needs time to recover. For sure I have the empathy, I understand the pain. Ok, we won and we were happy but you think to yourself: “they lost in such a difficult moment.” It’s why I say it is not easy to do this job. We have been in contact since, yes. 

We talked a few times on text. I think he works very well for the national team. 

Mancini and Italy broke English hearts at Wembley by beating the Three Lions on penalties

RICHARDS: Thinking back, when Luke Shaw scored so early I feared Italy would win as suddenly England had something to defend and dropped deep.

MANCINI: After 15 minutes, they were trying to keep the ball. England had waited such a long time for that moment. I told the players to be calm, I spoke to them from my heart.

RICHARDS: You played in a European Championships with Vialli, you played with Lombardo – now you have won a European Championship alongside them as a coach. It is an incredible story that you have stayed together for so long and did this for your country…

MANCINI: The European Championship is special for me, for Gianluca. We had played at Wembley 30 years ago and lost the European Cup against Barcelona. That defeat will never leave me. For Sampdoria, that was the one time, the one chance to win that trophy… 30 years later, I couldn’t lose another important game in the same stadium again.

Attilio Lombardo (left) and Fausto Salsano (second from right) also both worked at Man City

RICHARDS: So you win the trophy – tell me how does Jorginho not win the Ballon d’Or?

MANCINI: This is strange, no? It’s clear if you play in the era of Messi and Ronaldo, it’s difficult for everyone. 

But Jorginho, this year he gets to the FA Cup final, wins the Champions League, the European Championship, the European Super Cup. Why? Why can’t you win Ballon d’Or?

RICHARDS: What was it like coming back to Rome with the trophy?

MANCINI: The situation was strange because of Corona. When we got back in the afternoon and we went to see the President. We took the bus. There were so many people. 10,000? No! More! From the headquarters of the government to our hotel, it was five kilometres and there were people all the way with the bus. Just incredible.

Mancini caused a surprise this week when calling Mario Balotelli up for a training camp

THE FUTURE

Italy, remarkably, still have to fight to qualify for the World Cup and Mancini caused a surprise this week when calling Mario Balotelli up for a training camp. He may be involved in the first play-off against North Macedonia in March but, either way, this lean 57-year-old is not losing sleep.

RICHARDS: You lost Federico Chiesa to injury, you have gone back for Mario. He’s been doing well, no?

MANCINI: It had been three years since I had spoken to him. I called him because he is old, he is 31. Maybe his mind is better now! When Mario came to Manchester, he was an incredible talent. He was young with big quality. He always trained well – always. He is also a good guy – you know this.

His technique was always there. Maybe he didn’t always have the right mind-set and that impacted him being consistently one of the top players in the world. When you are a player at this level, you have to work very hard. 

Mancini faces an uphill battle to qualify Italy for the World Cup with the play-offs in March

RICHARDS: Being here with you now, you seem much more relaxed than you were with us. I saw you in your blazer at Wembley, standing there so calm. In the QPR game when you were screaming at us “**** you! **** all of you!” but with Italy I didn’t see you like that…

MANCINI: In Manchester, I was young. (winks) Now I have more experience; I’m calm and happy. I have a good life in Rome, I ride my bike to clear my mind. In Italy, if I react like you said, it’s normal. It’s not because I hate someone or anything. It’s passion, it’s normal to say these things.

RICHARDS: A World Cup without Italy? I don’t believe that will happen. You will beat North Macedonia and then it is Portugal or Turkey…

MANCINI: Our target is Macedonia. Never look past the next game, you know I say that! But let me say this (winks again): we have to try to win the World Cup in December… 




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