When Luciano Spalletti was 11, he asked his mom to sew a “giant” Italian flag together to celebrate the Azzurri’s 4-3 win over West Germany in the 1970 World Cup semifinals - a match that has since been labeled the “Game of the Century.”
“Now I’m going to carry that flag with me onto the national team’s bench,” Spalletti said on Saturday at his presentation as the new Azzurri coach. “I want to create that dream for thousands of kids. It’s really an indescribable emotion,” Spalletti added.
The 64-year-old Spalletti, who led Napoli to the Serie A title last season, was hired when Roberto Mancini unexpectedly resigned last month. Mancini then took over Saudi Arabia’s national team.
Spalletti, whose attacking tactics at Napoli garnered plaudits from all over Europe, left the southern club after the title and said he wanted to take a year-long sabbatical. But when the Italian soccer federation called to offer him the national team job, he didn’t hesitate.
It’s a good fit for Spalletti, who is from Tuscany and lives on a farm an hour’s drive from the national team training centre in the Coverciano hamlet of Florence.
When Spalletti left Napoli, he signed a document that included a clause of 3 million euros ($3.3 million) to be paid if he returned to work within a year.
Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis maintains that the fee must now be paid, while the Italian federation disagrees, saying that the national team is not a competitor of Napoli’s.
Spalletti said he hopes that the issue “ends positively for both sides,” adding that “lawyers are working on it.”
Mancini had a mixed tenure that included winning the European Championship in 2021 but also failing to qualify for the World Cup the following year.
“It’s useless to hide that there’s a bit of disappointment,” federation president Gabriele Gravina said about Mancini’s exit.
As for Spalletti, Gravina said: “Luciano dedicates his entire wellbeing to everything that he loves: his family, the people he’s close with, his land, and soccer.”
Italy faces North Macedonia and Ukraine in European Championship qualifiers on Sept. 9 and 12, respectively. The Azzurri have three points from their opening two games in Group C to trail England and Ukraine.
Former captain Leonardo Bonucci, Jorginho, Marco Verratti, and Francesco Acerbi—all regulars under Mancini—were left out of Spalletti’s first squad announced on Friday.
Bonucci was left out of preseason training at Juventus and transferred to Union Berlin on Friday. Jorginho has been reduced to a bench role at Arsenal, Verratti appears set to leave Paris Saint-German for Saudi Arabia, and Acerbi is recovering from injury.
“We’ve got to have the right commitment and behaviour,” Spalletti said at Coverciano. “That’s why I call players—not because of their names.”
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