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‘Immensely honoured’ Mancini named new coach of Saudi Arabia

Roberto Mancini and Yasser Al Misehal, the Saudi Arabian Football Federation president, attend a press conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on August 28, 2023.

Roberto Mancini and Yasser Al Misehal, the Saudi Arabian Football Federation president, attend a press conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on August 28, 2023.
| Photo Credit: AP

Roberto Mancini was on August 27 named as the new coach of the Saudi Arabia national team on a deal reported to be worth more than $25 million a year after he controversially quit the Italy job earlier this month.

The Saudis, who beat eventual champions Argentina at last year’s World Cup in Qatar, have been without a coach since Herve Renard left to take charge of France’s women’s team.

Mancini, 58, led Italy to the Euro 2020 title but failed to qualify for last year’s World Cup.

“I am immensely honoured to be offered the position as Saudi Arabia national team manager,” said Mancini who has signed a four-year contract.

“I believe this is a great opportunity for me, to experience football in a new country, especially with the growing popularity of football in Asia.”

He added: “The presence of top players in the Saudi Pro League indicates the potential for growth in the national football scene.”

Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest crude oil exporter, has made waves this summer by buying a host of players from European clubs for teams in the Saudi Pro League.

Brazil star Neymar was the latest in a growing list of big names to be attracted by the huge sums offered by the Saudis after Cristiano Ronaldo kicked off the trend by moving to Al-Nassr in January.

Shock exit

Mancini’s resignation from the Italy job came as a major shock, as earlier this month he had been handed responsibility for the country’s Under-21 and Under-20 teams.

He was heavily criticised for his decision especially following early reports that he was set to accept a mega-money move to Saudi, which he denied was the reason behind his resignation.

Mancini, who was replaced by former Napoli coach Luciano Spalletti, had a mixed time in his five years as Italy coach, victory at Euro 2020 seeming to revitalise a troubled football nation.

But the Azzurri failed to qualify for last year’s World Cup following a disastrous play-off defeat to North Macedonia, the second straight time they missed the world’s biggest football tournament.

Mancini won the 1991 Serie A title and four Italian Cups with long-time club Sampdoria, where he starred in attack alongside recently-deceased Gianluca Vialli.

Once becoming a coach he won three more “Scudetti” at Inter Milan — one assigned to the club in the aftermath of the “Calciopoli” match-fixing scandal, and then won the Premier League with Manchester City in 2012.

‘New era’

Newspaper La Gazzetta Dello Sport reported on Sunday that Mancini’s contract in Saudi Arabia would come with an annual salary of 25 million euros ($27 million).

The federation’s statement did not disclose his salary.

“The appointment confirms the new era of growth for the Saudi Arabian national team and marks a new milestone in Mancini’s distinguished career,” the Saudi federation said in a statement confirming Mancini’s appointment.

Mancini was due to arrive in the Saudi capital Riyadh on Monday to be presented to the media.

His first match with the team is set for September 8, an international friendly against Costa Rica at St James’ Park, home of Newcastle which is owned by the Saudi sovereign wealth fund.

Another friendly against South Korea is scheduled to be held in the English city on September 12.

A video posted to the Saudi national team’s account Sunday on X, formerly Twitter, featured Mancini in a white shirt and green tie declaring, “I made history in Europe, now it’s time to make history with Saudi.”

The length of his new contract means Mancini would potentially lead the Saudis to the next World Cup, and a source close to the negotiations told AFP the Saudi federation was “very optimistic with him at the helm”.

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