New Saudi coach Roberto Mancini counting on influx of top stars to help national team players

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — New Saudi Arabia coach Roberto Mancini is counting on the recent influx of global stars to the oil-rich kingdom’s league to help the local players improve.

Cristiano Ronaldo and Ballon d’Or holder Karim Benzema headline the multibillion dollar project that the Saudi Pro League has become.

“If you want to get a good player you’ve got to pay. It’s important that standout players have joined the Saudi league and are paid a lot, because they help the players here improve,” Mancini said on Monday during his presentation.

The Saudi Arabian Football Federation (SAFF) announced on Sunday that Mancini signed a four-year contract through the 2027 Asian Cup, which it will host.

Mancini’s first matches in charge are against Costa Rica on Sept. 8 and South Korea four days later — both are friendlies and at Saudi-owned Newcastle.

The upcoming Asian Cup, hosted by defending champion Qatar, is in January.

“Our goal is to win the Asian Cup for the first time in 27 years,” Mancini said. “We know that there are top teams like Japan, South Korea and Australia but we’re going there with the aim of winning it.”

Italian media have reported Mancini’s contract is worth 25 million euros ($27 million) a year.

The 58-year-old Mancini stunned Italian soccer when he quit as the national coach 15 days ago, ending an up-and-down tenure with the national team that included a European Championship title in 2021 and a failed qualification for last year’s World Cup.

“I began talking to the federation in mid-August so it’s normal that some of my assistants didn’t know about this situation,” Mancini said. “That’s why they’re not here yet. Some of them need to hurry up and get things done in Italy, but there are enough of us here to start working.”

SAFF President Yasser Al Misehal presented Mancini with a Green Falcons shirt featuring the number “2027” on it to signify Mancini’s contract duration.

Mancini’s debut as Italy coach in 2018 was a 2-1 win over Saudi Arabia in a friendly.

“Since then this team has improved a lot but the potential is there to do even better,” Mancini said. He recognized the “optimal work” by predecessor Hervé Renard, who resigned in March to take over France’s women’s team after leading Saudi Arabia to a stunning win over eventual champion Argentina in its opening game of last year’s World Cup.

“My staff and I have a lot to learn but I’m confident that in the end we’ll do a great job,” Mancini said. “We can improve — I’m sure of it.”


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