Roberto Mancini’s future as Italy’s boss is uncertain after an unimaginable play-off defeat to North Macedonia denied the team he guided to Euro 2020 glory a place at the World Cup.
Mancini was immediately backed by both captain Giorgio Chiellini and the president of the Italian Football Federation Gabriele Gravina in the immediate aftermath of possibly the most embarrassing defeat in the Azzurri’s history.
And such was the disappointment at a dominating but fundamentally turgid display against a side missing their key player Eljif Elmas that Mancini could yet cut short a contract that runs until 2026, the earliest Italy can expect to next play in a World Cup.
Mancini said “the disappointment is too great” to make any decisions on his future before Italy travel to Konya to take part in Tuesday’s pointless match with Turkey.
Italian media are already reporting that the 57-year-old, whose side have only lost twice since the start of 2019 could very well quit, with Fabio Cannavaro and Carlo Ancelotti being touted as potential successors.
Chiellini would rather that Mancini stayed, despite knowing he will finish his career never having known any joy at a World Cup, saying the former Inter Milan and Manchester City coach was “essential to this Italian team”.
The Juventus defender was dumped out of the group stages in both 2010 and 2014 — notoriously being bitten by Uruguay’s Luis Suarez — and failed to reach the next two editions.
Thursday night’s elimination is especially painful for the entirely unexpected and humiliating way it happened.
The 92nd-minute goal from former Palermo player Aleksandar Trajkovski at his old stomping ground condemned the Italians once again to the margins of world football.
It was also a precipitous decline, as Mancini and Italy had been full of enthusiasm heading into the second half of World Cup qualifying after their stunning Euro triumph in July which had completed a comeback from the abyss.
Mancini became a national hero last summer for beating England at Wembley but also for the way he had done it.
He had built a team from the ashes of failed 2018 World Cup qualification which won games but also played a flowing style of football not often seen in the national side.
They had won their first three World Cup qualifiers after winning every match in qualification for the Euro and looked nailed on for Group C’s only automatic spot in Qatar.
A complacent performance against Bulgaria in September’s homecoming party in Florence was followed by their luck turning in key moments — Jorginho’s missed penalties in both matches against Switzerland condemning Italy to the play-offs.
Added to this was Mancini’s insistence on sticking with the block of players who won the Euro, even when the dreadful club form of players like Lorenzo Insigne and Nicolo Barella was carried over to the national team.
Had Italy done the bare minimum and beaten North Macedonia at home, the team would not have been favourites to win the final against Portugal given the way they played in recent months.
A sparse calendar now awaits, with a clash between them as European champions and Copa America holders Argentina at Wembley in June and Nations League fixtures that month and in September, when their rivals will be gearing up for a World Cup they’ll have to watch on television.