New Saudi Arabia manager Roberto Mancini: Our target is to win Asian Cup 2023

The Italian coach plots success at next year's tournament after being unveiled in Riyadh

Roberto Mancini and SAFF president Yasser Al Misehal at the Italian coach's first official press conference since his unveiling as the new manager of Saudi Arabia. Reuters
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Roberto Mancini has set his sights on winning the 2023 Asian Cup with Saudi Arabia, but stressed hard work is the only secret to success as he conveyed his pride at being chosen as the national team’s new manager.

The Italian, who guided his homeland to the 2020 European Championship, was on Monday introduced as Herve Renard’s replacement having agreed to a contract through until 2027. Mancini, 58, resigned from the Italy national team on August 13 after five years in charge.

The former Sampdoria and Lazio forward's first training camp with Saudi Arabia takes place during next month’s international break, where the team will face Costa Rica and South Korea in friendlies in Newcastle, England. The matches act as part of preparations for the second round of qualification for the 2026 Fifa World Cup, which begins in November.

Sitting alongside Saudi Arabian Football Federation president Yasser Al Misehal at a press conference in Riyadh, Mancini said: “I thank the president for choosing me as the Saudi [Arabia] manager and I’m very proud to be here.

“It's true I know all the Italian players, so for us now, the next 10 days will be very important. But in the last 10 days we started to watch a lot of videos about the teams, about the players. Also, we have four friendly matches [two in October] before we start qualification for the 2026 World Cup, and we have enough time.

“We knew also about the team because we watched their games, also from [last year’s 2022] World Cup and we knew there are some talented players."

Mancini, a three-time Serie A winner as Inter Milan manager and the mastermind behind Manchester City’s first Premier League title, in 2012, has been tasked not only with leading Saudi Arabia to a third successive global finals and seventh overall, but also with guiding the country to a strong showing at the rescheduled Asian Cup.

The tournament, initially slated for China this summer, has been moved to Qatar and runs from January 12 to February 10. Three-time winners – they have, however, not captured the continent’s premier title since 1996 – Saudi Arabia have been drawn in Group F against Thailand, Kyrgyzstan and Oman.

“Our target is to try and win the Asian Cup after 27 years,” Mancini said. “Our target before that is we have four friendly matches, we have two games in World Cup qualification [Cambodia or Pakistan, and Jordan] and after that 20 days [camp] to prepare for the Asian Cup.

"We know there are many top teams, like Japan, South Korea and Australia, but I’m sure if we prepare we can achieve this.”

In pictures: Roberto Mancini's first press conference.

When asked what he could promise the Saudi Arabian people, Mancini added: “I’m not a magician. Our way is only to work; we can say to all the Saudi fans that we will work very hard because we want to try to win something important here with Saudi [Arabia].

“Like I said before, we have good talent, but we can take this goal only by hard work."

Mancini, who stunned Italian football by stepping down from his role little more than two weeks ago, experienced mixed results during his tenure. Appointed after the four-time World Cup winners failed to make Russia 2018 – the first time they missed football's showpiece tournament since 1958 – Mancini could not inspire the team to reach the 2022 edition in Qatar.

However, together with Italy’s Euro 2020 title win, he helped the national team to third-placed finishes in both the 2020/21 and 2022/23 Nations League.

Meanwhile, on the Saudi Pro League’s unprecedented recruitment this summer of some of the game’s lead players, Mancini said: “It is good for the Saudi championship, because all these stars that are here, they can improve the Saudi players.

“It is the same that happened in Italy many, many years ago: lots of big foreign players came to Italy and we improved a lot. It’s good for the Saudi players, and we have enough time to choose our players and we are prepared for that."

Al Misehal said: "Saudi Arabia has become an attractive destination for all international names, so we had no difficulty negotiating with Mancini."

Mancini's debut as Italy manager came in a 2-1 friendly win against Saudi Arabia in May 2018.

Updated: August 29, 2023, 7:00 AM