Italy coach Mancini leaves door open for Gianluigi Buffon
FLORENCE, Italy (AP) — Former Italy captain Gianluigi Buffon will still be considered if he wants to return to the national team.
Buffon retired from international soccer in November after Italy lost a World Cup playoff to Sweden, but he recently returned for friendlies.
Buffon was expected to bid the national team goodbye for good in another friendly on June 4 against the Netherlands at Allianz Stadium. However, at a news conference last week to announce his departure from Juventus, Buffon insisted he made the last of his 176 appearances for his country.
“I spoke to Gigi on the phone a couple of days after becoming national team coach,” Roberto Mancini said on Thursday. “It was a very quick chat. He explained to me what he intended to do, he wants to continue playing football.
“Everyone who will play and will be among the best can be considered for the national team.”
Mancini, who was confirmed as Italy’s new coach last week, named his first squad on Saturday and included Mario Balotelli, who could make his first appearance for Italy in nearly four years.
Balotelli last played for Italy in the 2014 World Cup, where the Azzurri were eliminated at the group stage. He was called up by Antonio Conte in November that year but was forced to withdraw injured.
“Mario is a particular case. When he was very young he was already a great player, then maybe he didn’t continue as he was at the beginning,” said Mancini, who worked with Balotelli at Inter Milan and Manchester City. “It all depends on him. He has done well over the past two years, I have faith in him. He has to give his maximum and behave himself.
“I last saw him four years ago, I think he is more mature now. He has two children and that helps.”
Mancini has been tasked with rebuilding a squad that failed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time in six decades.
“I’m not a magician, no coach is,” he said. “It’ll take time, one or two or even five matches won’t be enough. There was a period when we had an incredible abundance of players, now it’s not like that, but I believe in these players. Giving them confidence, they can become great and give a lot to the national team.
“Many of them haven’t played in European competition. It will be a more difficult work than in the past, but the national team has always managed to make players better with time. Sometimes victories come when you don’t expect them. There are national teams which have got to a high level in two years.”
Mancini’s first match will be on Monday against Saudi Arabia in Switzerland, followed by France and the Netherlands. His first competitive match will come in the new Nations League in September.
Lazio forward Ciro Immobile was the latest player to withdraw from the squad with injury. Fellow forward Federico Bernardeschi and midfielder Claudio Marchisio, who both play for Juventus, have already pulled out as has Chelsea defender Emerson.
Mancini has not called up any replacements yet.