The last time Roberto Mancini was in a Wembley final, he was a dead man walking.
On the eve of Manchester City’s FA Cup final meeting with Wigan in 2013, news broke that Mancini was to be sacked, irrespective of the result.
Despite having led City to their first Premier League title the season before, Mancini’s abrasive management style had started to lose its effect, leading to fall-outs with several players.
The City hierarchy feared many high-profile players would leave unless Mancini was sacked, including goalkeeper Joe Hart, such was the depth of ill-feeling towards the fiery Italian.
That mutinous mood was reflected in City’s limp display, as they were beaten 1-0 by Wigan, who were relegated three days later, in one of the biggest FA Cup final upsets.
City fans at Wembley made clear their feelings about Manuel Pellegrini, Mancini’s replacement, by chanting their support for the Italian and singing “You can stick your Pellegrini up your a***”.
Afterwards, in an extraordinary post-match rant in a room adjacent to where the press conference was held, Mancini let rip, accusing City staff of briefing against him and engineering his demise.
Less than 72 hours later, just 10 months after having signed a lucrative new five-year deal having led City to their first league title win for 44 years, Mancini was axed.
Short and unsuccessful spells at Galatasaray, Inter Milan and Zenit St Petersburg followed, before full redemption came with his appointment as Italy boss.
After the ignominy of Italy failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup under Antonio Conte, Mancini was brought in to resurrect the national team, a task he has done with remarkable success.
Under Mancini, Italy scored a record 37 goals in qualifying for Euro 2020, and their march to tomorrow’s final against England has stretched their unbeaten run to 33 games.
The combative approach that riled so many players in his final season at City has been replaced by a more measured style, with Italy’s mix of young and experienced players thriving under Mancini.
Italy and Paris St Germain midfielder Marco Verratti said Mancini, 56, was the perfect manager to revive Italy’s fortunes, restoring their confidence after their World Cup failure.
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“I think he’s done a huge job,” said Verratti. “He’s done well wherever he’s coached. He’s been criticised, but that’s part of the picture.
“If you don’t win, you get criticised and it’s normal in football. Results are paramount. But he’s done a great job with us. He’s a very special manager for us.
“He boosted our confidence when we lost it because of the negative results of the past. In that sense he was the perfect man for the job.
“He restarted our enthusiasm, triggered it and we’ve had fun under him. We haven’t lost in 33 matches and these are important statistics.
“It tells you he’s doing a great job. People say managers are not sometimes important, but that proves he is for us.”
Italy defender Leonardo Bonucci said one of Mancini’s biggest achievements was restoring the famous Italian winning mentality, which had been lost in recent years.
“First of all he worked on the mentality, on our heads,” said Bonucci.
“He gave us our confidence back, he gave us self-esteem and made us believe that what he wanted was the right way.
“So since the first day, we felt a willingness to start from scratch again and try to achieve something great.
“What also helped us was the additional year, for the youngsters to gain more experience, and for us veterans, so in that year we acquired more experience and enthusiasm.
“It allowed us to be here and to believe in something that seemed impossible three years ago.”