MICAH RICHARDS: England beware, Roberto Mancini is preparing Italy for WAR at Wembley… his Azzurri army will run through walls for him – when he speaks, you become a believer
- Roberto Mancini is leading Italy’s war for the Euros ahead of their final v England
- My former Manchester City boss makes you feel invincible for the big occasion
- He will tell the Azzurri that they are better than England and to silence the crowd
- His passion at the Etihad meant we never wanted to let him down on the pitch
- This is the best manager Gareth Southgate has faced so far as England boss
- Find out the latest Euro 2020 news including fixtures, live action and results here
The plotting and the messages will have started long ago. Roberto Mancini knows how to get into your head so that when a big day comes, you are ready to run through a brick wall.
Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci may be the generals who have led Italy into battle during this European Championship but one man — and one man alone — will be responsible for making sure the war is won.
Mancini has a way of inspiring you, of making you feel everything will be fine.
Roberto Mancini inspires you as a player – his pure passion makes you want to fight for him
He is the man driving Italy’s war for Euro 2020 and he’ll be doing his all to ensure it is won
This is what Gareth Southgate and England’s players need to understand. I’m certain, having seen Mancini at work at Manchester City, that the tone of his pre-match speech will be the same: he will tell Italy’s squad they are better than England in every department, whether he believes it or not.
He will then move on to other key points: go out and keep the crowd quiet; frustrate them into silence and then play the football you know. More than anything, he will be telling them in the dressing room to forget about nerves, to go and enjoy the occasion.
‘These games are the reason you become a footballer — this is what you play for,’ I can remember him telling us before the FA Cup final against Stoke in 2011 and on the final day of the season, the following year when we overcame QPR to become champions.
When Mancini was my Man City boss, he made us want to run through walls and assured us that everything would be fine on the day
His passionate speeches were key to helping City win the Premier League and FA Cup
The passion runs through him to such an extent that you don’t want to let him down. He gets so emotional on the touchline that you feel obligated to go the extra yard for him; Mancini has got presence and when he speaks, you become a believer.
I know Italy’s squad believe in him because I watched the speeches he gave before extra time against Austria in the last 16 and against Spain in that superb semi-final, and the roar from the group as Mancini finished talking showed what impact he had.
It’s been wonderful to watch people recognise how good Mancini is throughout this tournament (I get accused of being biased when I relay my experiences) but, from an Englishman’s point of view, I’m now anxious as Italy present a danger to our hopes of success like no other.
It feels surreal to be talking about England playing in a major final. I was too young to get involved in the heartbreak of the 1990 World Cup and my memories of Euro 96 are hazy, as I was only eight, but the feelings that swept through me after the final whistle on Wednesday are impossible to describe.
When the Italian speaks, you instantly become a believer – he’ll make his team convinced they can beat England in Sunday’s final
What was wonderful, though, was seeing the faith I had in this group proving not to be misplaced. I expected us to beat Ukraine last Saturday and I expected us to take care of Denmark and that is what we did. I do not for one moment think that I was the only person who felt that way.
But isn’t it glorious that these players, heroes each and every one of them, are delivering?
To put it another way, I played for England during an era when, for all the talents we had, there was suspicion about us in big games and an expectation we would fall flat on our faces when it mattered.
If you want evidence, I’ll point you to that night in November 2007 when Croatia prevented us from qualifying for the European Championship. The atmosphere that miserable evening was so far removed from the euphoria and joy that was evident against Germany and Denmark.
Gareth Southgate has never faced a manager like Mancini and he must be wary of traps
We will not tempt fate by imagining what it could be like if England get over the line. That ambition is still very much in the balance and, looking at the teams, it genuinely is a 50-50 call — it could be decided by one tactical call or a referee’s decision.
Mancini is the best manager Southgate has come up against, without a shadow of a doubt. But there is no need for him to deviate from the plan that has got England into this position.
Southgate is not the kind of person who will be daunted by the challenge anyway, his leadership has been absolutely outstanding.
The Azzurri will hope to silence the Wembley crowd and flatten England’s dream of glory
This is going to be a wonderful final. England have got the better attacking options but I don’t feel our defence is miles better than Italy’s. John Stones and Harry Maguire may have been out-standing — but Chiellini and Bonucci have been just as good, although they will miss the injured Leonardo Spinazzola.
How everything plays out will be fascinating to watch. I’m praying England lift the trophy, for so many reasons, but the final climb to the peak of this mountain is littered with danger. Mancini will lay traps for England, while inspiring his own army. It has the makings of a classic.
Only two weeks ago, I said here the tournament had lacked a ‘throw your beer’ moment for us.
Since then, I’ve never seen so much beer thrown in celebration! If you love England and you love football, memories have been created to last a lifetime. Let’s hope the best is yet to come.
WALKER’S CHARACTER IS INCREDIBLE
When England’s penalty was awarded against Denmark, my eye was drawn to Kyle Walker. He was by the halfway line and as referee Danny Makkelie pointed to the spot, Walker dropped to the floor consumed by the emotion.
It was as if he knew a lifelong dream was about to be realised.
It’s not an easy thing to do to give Walker credit. I get that as soon as I offer praise, people will raise points about the past issues he has had —such as breaking lockdown rules. He made a mistake then and admitted his actions.
Kyle Walker has made mistakes in the past but he has shown a different side to himself at the Euros and displayed his true character
There was a point during my career when we were rivals and we never had any kind of relationship.
I had a conversation with him earlier this season and I saw a completely different side to him; it’s helped me to get to know him better.
He’s had to overcome a lot of things in the last 12 months and we shouldn’t forget that his season started with him getting sent off in a Nations League game against Iceland. For him to get into a position where he started the European Championship semi-final and produced an outstanding performance tells you about his character. It’s only right that his qualities are recognised.
MY GOAL OF THE TOURNAMENT
There have been some belters over the last four weeks. I expect many thought Patrik Schick had this award wrapped up after four days when he scored from 50 yards against Scotland.
But the winner, in my view, came at Wembley on Wednesday.
Mikkel Damsgaard’s free-kick was extraordinary. Jordan Pickford got some blame but the power, dip and the swerve Damsgaard got by hitting across the ball was brilliant. Schick’s looked spectacular because of the distance but Damsgaard’s execution was on another level.
There have been some fabulous goals at Euro 2020 but Mikkel Damsgaard’s free kick against England in the semi-final was on another level
MICAH’S VERDICT – ENGLAND ON PENALTIES
Italy are formidable and there is little difference between the respective qualities of each team. It will be close, it will be tight and it will go the distance but England will get the trophy.
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