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Mancini Eyes Asian Cup As He Seals Lucrative Saudi Move

Mancini denied that he made his shock Italy exit was in order to move to the oil-rich Gulf monarchy.


The president of the Saudi Arabian Football Federation, Yasser al-Misehal (L) and newly appointed Italian coach of the Saudi national football team, Roberto Mancini, pose for a picture at a press conference and signing ceremony in Riyadh, on August 28, 2023. (Photo by Fayez NURELDINE / AFP)

 

Roberto Mancini said he hoped to lead Saudi Arabia to Asian Cup victory within months as he signed a multi-million dollar deal on Monday, just a fortnight after quitting as Italy coach.

The former Inter Milan and Manchester City boss held up a green shirt that read “Mancini 2027” after inking a contract to stay with the Green Falcons beyond the next World Cup.

Mancini, who has denied that he made his shock Italy exit was in order to move to the oil-rich Gulf monarchy, is reported to have been offered more than $25 million to join the big-spending Saudis.

“I’m not a magician,” said the Italian, when asked what he could promise the Saudi people — before pledging to go for Asian Cup glory in January-February in Qatar.

“Our target is to try to win the Asian Cup after 27 years,” he said.

“We have four months. We have four friendly matches. We have two games for the World Cup (qualifiers) and after we have 20 days to prepare for the Asian Cup.

“We know that there are many top teams like Japan, like Australia, like (South) Korea. But I’m sure that we’ll go there and we’ll try to win.”

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Mancini, 58, is just the latest high-profile acquisition for the world’s top oil exporter which has snapped up some of football’s biggest players in a spree costing hundreds of millions of dollars.

He arrived in Riyadh just days after Brazilian superstar Neymar was presented to fans in the capital, joining Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and a host of others in the Saudi Pro League.

Building a credible national team is seen as a major plank of the Saudi football transformation, which is part of ambitious plans to reshape the oil-reliant economy and burnish the ultra-conservative country’s image.

The Saudis lie 54th in the world rankings, way below some of their Asian Football Confederation peers. The Saudi women’s team, which played its first games only last year, is 172nd out of 186 teams.

The Green Falcons, who upset eventual winners Argentina in the group stage at last year’s World Cup, have been without a coach since March, when Herve Renard left to take charge of France’s women’s team.

AFP