x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

The midas touch Roberto Mancini enjoys in the cup competitions

The Italian has enjoyed success over the years in cup competitions, both as a player and coach, writes Ian Hawkey.

Roberto Mancini is out to win the FA Cup for a second time in three years.
Roberto Mancini is out to win the FA Cup for a second time in three years.

Around Manchester this weekend, so many statistical monuments to one manager's greatness have been compiled, such tall skyscrapers of achievement put on display that, come the end of today's FA Cup final, any stack of endorsements for a younger coach will look a mere molehill.

But should Roberto Mancini lead Manchester City to victory against Wigan Athletic, he will chalk up quite a milestone. It would be the 20th cup triumph of his career.

Set against the towering record of the retiring Sir Alex Ferguson, that figure looks only like a promising start.

But then, with Mancini, at 48, younger than David Moyes, cup wins so often are promising platforms.

He has a knack of building on victories in knockout competitions to bigger, better things, of using them either as a career springboard or as the foundation stones of gathering fortitude for the teams with whom he has been involved.

Mancini's playing days were famously, defiantly spent mainly with relatively provincial clubs, always with clubs outside the so-called Big Three of his native Italy.

Among his distinctions was to be admired for close to 20 years as one of the most gifted, intelligent and effective Italian footballers without ever being an employee of AC Milan or Juventus.

He was part of the Inter Milan organisation only once he had become a coach.

Mancini's first prize as a senior professional would be a Coppa Italia. He was 21 when he lifted it with Sampdoria.

He scored in the second, home leg of the final, against a Milan team, who would within four years become the finest side in Europe.

That season, Mancini registered as many goals in the coppa - three in eleven games - as he did in his 24 Serie A games.

He liked the coppa. A year later, Mancini again scored in the final, although Sampdoria were to lose 3-2 on aggregate to Roma.

Sometimes the value of Italy's domestic knockout competition is sneered at, as if it is an afterthought to the league, an inconsequential ornament in the trophy cabinets of the major clubs.

Certainly, it has less resonance than its English equivalent, but for a dashing Sampdoria, where Mancini's talent was blossoming in the 1980s, it would become a focus.

Their 1988 victory in the final against Torino became an epic, 2-0 to the home side over each of the 90 minute legs, victory for Mancini's Samp in extra-time in the Turin.

Their knockout know-how was growing. The following season, they tidied up the medals more urgently, Mancini striking the fourth Sampdoria goal before an hour had passed in the second leg of what would be a 4-1 aggregate triumph over Napoli.

In those days, the coppa meant a ticket into the now defunct European Cup Winners Cup. In 1990, Mancini was on the winning side in that.

These regular nights of adrenalin and silverware undoubtedly armed Sampdoria for bigger prizes and in 1991 they would disrupt the Serie A establishment and win the scudetto.

Shortly after, Mancini picked up his fifth knockout trophy, the Italian Supercoppa, and in 1994 added another Italian Cup with Sampdoria.

He joined upwardly mobile but success-starved Lazio in 1997 and, as Sven-Goran Eriksson, his coach there, remembers: "Winning cup competitions was important because it made us feel we had what it takes to be champions."

Milan were beaten in one final, Inter two years later. In between came a triumph in the Cup-Winners Cup and then a European Super Cup defeat of Manchester United.

The early years of Mancini the coach were never likely to yield league titles, because his first two employers, Fiorentina and a near-bankrupted Lazio, were in desperate financial difficulties.

In that context, the fact their young manager was able to coax Coppa Italia triumphs out of both was a ringing endorsement of his resourcefulness.

It persuaded Inter to hire Mancini. There, he brought in silverware in his first two seasons. Guess which sort? A pair of Coppa Italias, before guiding the team to the top of the Serie table at the end of each of the following two years. He also picked up a Supercoppa as Inter coach.

At City, the FA Cup win of 2011 was duly followed by a league title 12 months later.

Mancini began this term with a Community Shield gold medal and hopes to end it with another Cup against Wigan.

He regularly cites his tally of major prizes as his alibi when his position at City comes under scrutiny. He is not wrong in that argument: cups do have cachet, but it remains to be seen if number 20 would be enough to make Mancini's City future safe.

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