FOR all of the success he has enjoyed in management, collecting ten major domestic trophies in three different countries, European football has proved to be a much less fulfilling environment for Roberto Mancini as a coach.
As he prepares his Inter Milan side for the first leg of their Europa League last-32 tie against Celtic tonight, Mancini has seldom been in more pressing need of adding a piece of continental silverware to his CV.
His second spell in charge of Inter, whom he led to three Serie A titles first time around, has proved difficult so far. Currently tenth in the table, qualification for the Champions League by that route is unlikely.
With this season’s Europa League winners earning a place in the Champions League next season for the first time, the incentive to lift Uefa’s secondary trophy has been heightened considerably.
Mancini’s best performance as a manager in Europe so far came in 2003 when his Lazio side lost out to Porto in the semi-finals of the Uefa Cup, the year Celtic reached the final. Now the former Manchester City boss is hoping to go one better.
“After this tie against Celtic, we hope to have an eye on the final,” said Mancini. “Clearly, I would like to win the Europa League for many reasons. There are another four rounds after this and there are many good teams in the tournament.”
Mancini is preparing himself for a challenge from Celtic which he does not believe will conform to the stereotypical view of Scottish football which many of the Italian journalists at last night’s media conference were keen to pursue.
They were keen to learn whether Mancini intended to restore Nemanja Vidic to his defence, given the former Manchester United captain’s experience of “physical” British football. Vidic has been sidelined by injury recently but is back in training. Mancini, however, suggested he may have to settle for a place on the bench in a game he expects to be decided by craft rather than graft.
“Celtic play good football,” said Mancini. “They try to play on the grass, they don’t play the long ball. They have good technical players. Celtic can progress if they play good football and I am not surprised that they have this style.
“I won’t be playing more physical players against Celtic. Yes, Celtic are maybe a physical team but they also play football. I will assess the situation on Thursday morning. Some of our players are still recovering from the weekend. Vidic is clearly familiar with playing against British teams but that doesn’t mean he will definitely be in the team.”
Mancini is looking forward to a reunion with Celtic manager Ronny Deila who, while coach of Stromsgodset in Norway, visited Manchester City’s training ground on an educational visit when the Italian was in charge.
“I remember Ronny coming to Manchester to watch us training,” said Mancini. “I can’t remember what he spoke about specifically, because it was normal for a lot of young coaches and managers to come to Manchester and see what we did there. Ronny is still a young man now but he is a good manager and his team plays good football.
“I am proud to be Inter manager for this game because it will be a great event. Maybe we have lost this kind of atmosphere in Italy in recent years, playing in front of 60,000 fans. It will be a good experience for our players and can help them perform well.”
Inter captain Andrea Ranocchia agreed that a sold-out Celtic Park will provide more in the way of inspiration than intimidation for his team. “Big matches like this are always a great experience,” he said. “I can develop and mature as a player in these kind of matches.”
The 27-year-old Italian, however, was unmoved by the suggestion from one Italian reporter than the historical connection between Inter and Celtic would provide him with additional motivation. “I don’t have any thoughts about the European Cup final in 1967,” he shrugged. “I don’t think even my dad was born then.”