Serie A has been blessed with outstanding Brazilians over the last 50 years. The list is almost endless: Aldair, Adriano, Branco, Cafu, Careca, Dunga, Julio Cesar, Kaka, Rivaldo, Roberto Carlos, Ronaldinho, Ronaldo, Serginho, Socrates, Thiago Silva, Claudio Taffarel and Zico.
Omitted from that list is Mancini, a player that, on his day, could bring a smile to even the grumpiest Roma fan, the club for whom he made over 150 appearances between 2003 and 2008. His path to Serie A, though, was a rather peculiar one. The Brazilian’s first taste of Italian football was in Serie B, as he made the move from Atletico Mineiro to Venezia in January 2003. Mancini failed to make an impact for the remainder of the 2002-03 season, making 12 appearances, but starting just four times. Deployed on the left-wing, Mancini wasn’t able to register an assist, let alone score a goal. Moving from Brazil to Italy’s lower leagues was undoubtedly a culture shock for him, and he found it difficult to adapt, hence his ineffectiveness at Venezia. His tendency to be overly elaborate and exuberant — especially when it came to tricks and flicks — was frowned upon by his coach Gianfranco Belloto.
Which is why Mancini’s move to Serie A giants Roma in the summer of 2003 came as such a surprise. Quite remarkably, especially considering the current financial climate of the transfer market, Roma paid just €1,000 to sign the Brazilian. But head coach Fabio Capello had faith in his new signing – thrusting Mancini into the starting line-up from the get go. Mancini’s initial displays were at times underwhelming, as he failed to register on the scoresheet in his first eight games. The only consolation was a solitary goal in the UEFA Cup first round (second leg) against FC Vardar of Macedonia. Under increasing criticism from those asking if he was cut out for Serie A, Mancini answered the doubters in the best way possible.
On November 9, 2003, Roma hosted Lazio in the Derby della Capitale. Always the biggest fixture of the year in Rome, it was given added spice due to both teams going strongly in Serie A, with the Giallorossi sitting in third and Lazio fifth. In a rivalry that means so much to its fans, heroes can be made and crucially, so can careers. With the game still goalless in the 81st minute, Roma won a free kick on the right hand side, just a few yards outside the 18-yard box. A young Antonio Cassano steadied himself before whipping the ball into the box. Mancini got ahead of the near post defender to produce a stunning Cruyff Flick on the volley, which flew past keeper Matteo Sereni into the bottom corner. The Yellow and Red half of the Stadio Olimpico exploded into thunderous joy, as Mancini wildly celebrated by taking his jersey off, running towards a flare lit Curva Sud. His sumptuous backheel would be heralded Il Tacco di Dio – the heel of God.
Mancini would turn provider five minutes later, as Roma caught Lazio on the counter attack, with the winger playing a sumptuous crossfield pass for his Brazilian teammate Emerson to make it 2-0. The five minute burst broke Lazio’s spirits and the Giallorossi’s win propelled them into second place. Mancini’s exploits were the start of a purple patch in form – scoring twice in the next three league games. Furthermore, he only missed one league game that season, which was impressive given the array of talent Roma had to choose from, including the likes of Emerson, Cassano, Francesco Totti, Vincenzo Montella, a young Daniele De Rossi, John Carew and Marco Delvecchio.
Mancini’s eight league goals helped Roma to finish second in the league and clinch a place in next season’s Champions League. His reward was making his debut for Brazil in April 2004 and he was part of the squad that won the 2004 Copa America in Peru. After enjoying such a notable debut season in Serie A, the curse that is one-season syndrome kicked in for Mancini, netting just four goals in the 2004-05 campaign. It was a disappointing season for Roma, finishing eighth in the league, while losing the Coppa Italia final to Inter. It didn’t help that Roma worked their way through four coaches in one season (Cesare Prandelli, Rudi Voller, Luigi Delneri and Bruno Conti).
But the mark of a good player is how they bounce back from disappointment and he responded by making the 2005/06 campaign his most successful during his time in the Italian capital. He scored 18 goals in total, which included 12 from 27 league appearances, while notching three further goals in seven UEFA Cup games and the same amount in the Coppa Italia. Mancini was actually quite ineffective during the first half of that season, as he missed seven weeks with an injury, scoring just once before the winter break in a 3-0 win against Reggina in August.
But he came back from the winter break renewed and in his first game, he scored the winner in a victory over AC Milan. The blue touch paper was lit after scoring again vs. Reggina in a 3-1 win, while scoring twice and creating an assist in a 4-1 destruction of Udinese. Two games later, the Brazilian scored twice in a 3-0 win at Parma. Yet it was his creative abilities that came to the fore once again, and all when it really mattered in the Derby della Capitale in late February.
It was Mancini’s corner that allowed Rodrigo Taddei to score at the near post to give Roma the lead. Then, deep into the second half, while Lazio searched for an equaliser, Roma counterattacked and Mancini found himself in space on the left wing. As he entered the box, the Brazilian unbalanced the defender opposite him with a shimmy and assuredly laid the ball square to the oncoming Alberto Aquilani, who drilled the ball past Angelo Peruzzi to make it 2-0. Mancini had inspired yet another derby day victory, and all without the injured captain and talisman Francesco Totti.
Alas, despite the good work of Mancini and his teammates, the season proved to be a case of deja vu. Frustratingly, Roma lost the Coppa Italia final yet again to Inter – Mancini’s assist in the final was scant consolation for the Brazilian. In Serie A, they were elevated to second as a result of the Calciopoli rulings, which led to Juventus’ relegation to Serie B and their title being stripped. But despite the overall disappointment, Mancini had proved his worth once again, improving his end product in terms of both goals and assists, complementing his already rich skill set.
Second place meant Roma automatically qualified for the 2006/07 Champions League. For Mancini, this represented a second chance. His performances had been underwhelming in the 2004/05 edition, when the Giallorossi crashed out in the group stages. The Brazilian wouldn’t disappoint and in February 2007, he announced himself on the European stage in a last 16 tie against Lyon.
Having drawn the first leg 0-0 in Rome, the Giallorossi took an early lead in the second leg thanks to a headed goal from Totti. But this was just an appetiser for what was to come. As the game ventured towards half time, Mancini received the ball in space on the left thanks to Marco Cassetti’s raking pass. The winger found himself one-on-one with Lyon’s right back Anthony Réveillère. Approaching the box, the Brazilian squared up the French international, before unleashing a dazzling torrent of stepovers. Réveillère, like many viewers, was mesmerised.
The Frenchman took the bait and tried to dispossess his opponent. But Mancini was too quick and he danced past the full back. Lyon’s goalkeeper, Gregory Coupet, attempted to narrow the angle by stepping towards Mancini, but the Brazilian simply smashed the ball past him and inside the near post. If the goal had been scored today, it would have instantly gone viral on social media. Mancini recollected his moment of individual brilliance when speaking to FourFourTwo in March 2015:
Ah, the stepovers. We call them pedaladas in Brazil. They’ve always been my trademark. It was a mix of technique, strength and acceleration – a little bit of everything.
Mancini would excel in the quarter final first leg against Manchester United, creating both goals in a 2-1 win, before the infamous 7-1 defeat at Old Trafford in the second leg. Meanwhile domestically, Roma would once again finish second in the league but this time, there would be no such frustrations in the Coppa Italia. The Giallorossi claimed their revenge over Inter, beating them 7-4 on aggregate. Mancini scored in the incredible 6-2 victory in the first leg, finally lifting the Coppa Italia.
The 2007/08 season would be the Brazilian’s final season at Roma, as once more they finished second in the league. His time in the capital did end in glory, however, albeit from the bench, as Mancini watched the Giallorossi clinch back-to-back Coppa Italia wins. Impressively, despite injury problems, Mancini was still able to score 13 goals throughout the season, which led to interest from Inter. The Nerazzurri had been long-term admirers, as had several foreign clubs, but the Nerazzurri took the plunge in July 2008 and signed the winger for €13 million – a far cry from his previous transfer fee of €1,000.
It was surprising that he was sold to a domestic rival, but though his career went on the wane afterwards, fans have good memories of his time at Roma. His ability to create moments of brilliance were tinged with flaws – he and Totti reportedly had a feud for a few years. But life with Mancini was rarely dull and his five years at Roma dazzled fans of the Giallorossi.