90min

How the spirit of Sampdoria is steering Italy to glory at EURO 2020

Gianluca Vialli and Roberto Mancini
Gianluca Vialli and Roberto Mancini / Marc Atkins/Getty Images
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With Dopey and Sleepy in positions of power, Sampdoria's Seven Dwarves have set the tone for Italy's joyous UEFA EURO 2020 campaign.

Once upon a time in an Italian coastal city called Genoa there was a team that surprised the Italian footballing establishment by winning the Scudetto. They were called Sampdoria and they had a fantastic attacking duo, but most of all they were imbued with a sense of fun. For them, there was no challenge that could not be faced with a smile and a sense of style.

Claudio Villa Archive
Mancini and Vialli at Sampdoria / Claudio Villa/Getty Images

The squad was so tight that players and coaches spent time together off the pitch. Every Thursday evening, there was a team dinner at a local restaurant, Edilio. Seven members of the squad formed a group within the group, hanging out together, having fun and making mischief. They called themselves the Seven Dwarves; future Italy coach Roberto Mancini was Dopey, the national team's head of delegation at UEFA EURO 2020, Gianluca Vialli, was Sleepy.

"We were all in love with the club," Vialli remembered. "We went to bed with Sampdoria pyjamas on, while going to the Bogliasco training ground in the morning was always a joy: the blue of the sea on one side, the green of the hills on the other. Wonderful."

If you have watched Italy's EURO 2020 side closely, there is a sense that Mancini has managed to recreate that Sampdoria spirit of old in the Azzurri camp, with the help of Vialli and other ex-team-mates like Attilio Lombardo, Fausto Salsano, Alberico Evani and Giulio Nuciari. The EURO finalists never seem to take themselves too seriously. They are always ready to sing together, make jokes and laugh at each other. Even during the tensest moments of the semi-final shoot-out against Spain, they did not seem too flustered.

"Mancini is a great coach and we are like brothers," said Vialli. "He has created a fantastic atmosphere in the dressing room. There is discipline, but also great calmness. He has instilled confidence in his players."

Mancini and Vialli's hug after Federico Chiesa's round of goal against Austria will be one of the most memorable moments of the tournament for Italy. "It was a very difficult game," Mancini told EURO2020.com. "It was the first knockout game and we had a hard time of it against Austria, so it was a liberating hug. It was like going back 30 years."

Asked whether his Italy side reminded him of his 1990s Sampdoria team, Mancini replied: "It was [president Paolo] Mantovani's Sampdoria, not mine. That was an unusual club, with important values. This side reminds me a bit of that team, yes. The atmosphere is certainly good and things always go better when the working environment is so good.

Roberto Mancini, Gianluca Vialli
Mancini: 'It was a liberating hug' / Carl Recine - Pool/Getty Images

"I believe that is the basis of every working group," he added. "We have been together for a lot of days now but the time has gone by very quickly. That's because the guys like to spend time with each other and you can see that on the pitch as well."

That easy-going approach will not change for the final. "You have to face this match with great focus but also with joy because it is a football game after all," Mancini said. "You can't be tensed and nervous about a football game. You can only win a final if you have fun."

After winning the Scudetto in 1991, Sampdoria's fairy tale continued in Europe the following season, and only ended with an extra-time defeat in the European Cup final against Barcelona at Wembley. Mancini has grown up a lot since. He is no longer Dopey, but the Prince Charming that woke Snow White Italy with a kiss. Now, at Wembley again, he is in search of his happy ending.

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