Roberto Mancini was appointed coach of the Saudi Arabia national team on Sunday, just two weeks after the European Championship-winning manager surprisingly left his job in charge of Italy.
The Saudi Arabian soccer federation (SAFF) said the Italian has been given a four-year contract. His first matches in charge will be against Costa Rica on Sept. 8 and South Korea four days later — both are friendly games and will take place at Newcastle.
SAFF posted a video on social media with clips of Mancini. In it, he says: “I made history in Europe, now it’s time to make history with Saudi.”
Italian media reported that Mancini's contract is worth 25 million euros ($27 million) a year, and that the 58-year-old will be presented to the media at a news conference on Monday.
Mancini is the latest big name to become part of Saudi’s soccer revolution. Clubs from the oil-rich kingdom splashed the cash in the offseason on a number of star soccer players amid continued concerns from human rights organizations which argue that Saudi Arabia uses sports for public-relations purposes.
“I am immensely honored to be offered the position as Saudi Arabia national team manager,” Mancini said. “I believe this is a great opportunity for me, to experience football in a new country, especially with the growing popularity of football in Asia.
“I firmly believe that the passionate footballing culture of Saudi Arabia and the intrinsic quality of Saudi players are crucial ingredients for success. The presence of top players in the Saudi Pro League indicates the potential for growth in the national football scene."
Mancini stunned Italian soccer when he quit as national team coach earlier this month, ending an an up-and-down tenure with the national team that included a European Championship title in 2021 but also a failed qualification for last year’s World Cup.
He was replaced by Luciano Spalletti, who led Napoli to the Serie A title last season.
Mancini also won three straight Serie A titles with Inter Milan — from 2005 to 2008 — as well as steering Manchester City to the Premier League crown in 2012.
“We are delighted to welcome Roberto Mancini to lead the Green Falcons," SAFF President Yasser Al Misehal said. "His experience and proven track record at club and international level marks a significant step towards achieving our goals in international football.
“Roberto believes in Saudi football and our desire to develop top competitive players and take them to new heights on the world stage — including the Asian Cup in Qatar and qualification for the 2026 World Cup ... We’re a footballing nation and we (are) continuing to invest at every level in our journey to compete with the best in the world on and off the pitch."
The Asian Cup, hosted by defending champion Qatar, starts in January. The Saudis, who will host the tournament in 2027, are drawn in a group with Kyrgyzstan, Oman and Thailand.
Before that there are two World Cup qualifiers in November — against Jordan and either Cambodia or Pakistan. Tajikistan is also in Group G.
Players in the Saudi national team now have the chance to train and play with a slew of global stars like Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema lured to the multi-billion dollar project that the Saudi Pro League has become.
Saudi Arabia finished fourth in its group at last year's World Cup, but caused one of the biggest upsets in the tournament's history when it beat eventual champion Argentina in their opener.
“The whole world recognizes the enormous potential of the Saudi Arabia national team during their outstanding performance at the World Cup," Mancini said. "The scenes of the fans following that victory was immense.
"They left their mark on the global stage, filling Saudi Arabian football fans with immense pride and accelerating the nation’s footballing ambitions. We have the potential to improve further. The squad is strong with talented players. I believe we have what it takes to elevate our game if we work hard.”
The friendlies against Costa Rica and South Korea will be at St. James' Park, the stadium of Premier League team Newcastle whose majority owner is the Public Investment Fund that manages $700 billion of Saudi sovereign wealth.
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