MILAN (Reuters) – Italian players are getting fewer games than ever before in the country’s own Serie A league, national team coach Roberto Mancini said Monday as he prepared for his first competitive games.
Italy host Poland on Friday and visit Portugal three days later in the newly-created Nations League, their first competitive internationals since November when they failed to qualify for this year’s World Cup.
Mancini included eight uncapped players in his squad for the two games, among them 17-year-old Monaco striker Pietro Pellegri and 19-year-old Roma midfielder Nicolo Zaniolo who has yet to make his Serie A debut.
Mancini said he had picked Zaniolo after his performances for Italy’s under-19 team.
“A good player like him has to play,” said Mancini. “In the past, players of his age were already playing for big clubs and that ought to be the case today. It happens abroad.
“The use of Italians has never been so low, so we have to invent something and that’s why I picked this squad,” he added.
“I believe that there are very good Italians, certainly better than many of the foreigners who play in their place.”
Mancini singled out Roma midfielders Lorenzo Pellegrini and Bryan Cristante and Inter midfielder Roberto Gagliardini as others who should be getting more time on the pitch at their clubs.
“Midfield is an area where we have some problems today because of the poor use of the likes of Pellegrini, Cristante, Gagliardini and others,” he said.
Still, Mancini said he was optimistic.
“I’m convinced that we’ll do well. The important thing is that we become a team as soon as possible because there are only three or four players in the world who can win games on their own.”
Italy have played three friendlies under Mancini with a win against Saudi Arabia, a draw against the Netherlands and a defeat to France.
(Writing by Brian Homewood, editing by Pritha Sarkar)