Europe’s most-carded player: Why is Gianluca Mancini still struggling so much with discipline issues?

The 2021-22 season was supposed to be the making of Gianluca Mancini at Roma. After getting two productive seasons under his belt, he had shown the potential to progress further.

Installed as vice-captain over the summer, Mancini’s rise up the leadership hierarchy had become apparent, just as much as his development on the pitch. For someone who grew up idolising Marco Materazzi, the chance to work under ex-Inter coach Jose Mourinho also promised a bright new dawn for Roma’s number 23.

But things have not been going to plan for Mancini. Although he remains a regular starter, his performances have come into question more than ever before during his time with the club. He has been struggling in duels, either getting beaten or giving away fouls frequently.

And those discipline issues have become a stick with which to beat the defender when he is facing increasing criticism. Yellow cards have always been a part of his game, but whereas last season he could get away with it as part of a combative approach, this term even that isn’t working and it is making him look worse.

As such, Mancini has suffered a descent from being something of a loveable rogue to an over-angered source of frustration. Some fans are now wanting him to leave the club, although the internal plans remain to consider giving him a new contract.

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But if Mancini is to be a key part of Roma’s long-term future still, he needs to wise up. A rough approach can be beneficial for a defender if done right, but he is misjudging things too often at present. But is there a reason why, and can it be stopped?

Gianluca Mancini: Europe’s most carded

Mancini has been carded 12 times in Serie A this season (including one red for a double yellow), already more than the entirety of last term. He has also picked up four yellows in cup competitions. It gives him the unwanted record of currently being the most-booked player in Europe.

Alarmingly, he has seen yellow in all but one of his most recent 10 appearances for Roma, culminating in a suspension after the draw against Sassuolo. Beyond his return, he will have to regain his composure.

So, what is the explanation for Mancini’s misdemeanours? Is he simply being overly aggressive – perhaps trying too hard to impress his manager? It is clear he holds Mourinho in high esteem and may be wanting to justify his faith. Going overboard, though, will be counterproductive – and he should know that.

Could it merely be a lack of intelligence, then, even if he has shown otherwise in the past? At 25, Mancini should be maturing as a player, but it isn’t looking like it. Some players have flaws that they can never eradicate and this may be something that Mancini’s employers must accept.

Alternatively, may he be struggling with the intensity at the highest level? After all, his highest ever bookings tally for a league season before coming to Roma was just five. In contrast, has reached double figures in each of his three seasons with the club.

Making amends for others?

Or is there yet a more hidden reason? Many of Mancini’s fouls come not just outside his own area, but further up the field. It could just be coincidence, or is this a side-effect of Roma’s deficiencies in defensive midfield?

Mourinho has wanted to strengthen the position ever since taking charge, and what has followed this season has shown why. No midfielder who started the campaign with Roma appears capable of marking opponents properly. Is Mancini trying too hard to account for the flaws of his teammates in front of him – and in turn inadvertently showcasing his own flaws?

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It isn’t just for Mancini and the midfielders that such an issue is happening. Other players can sometimes be sucked out as a result of Roma’s full-backs struggling to prevent crossing. Thus, in a few areas, players are perhaps trying to atone for the deficiencies of others, instead of focusing more on their own jobs. The intentions may be for the good of the team, but the results are not.

Incidentally, Mancini has played briefly in midfield before for Roma, towards the start of Paulo Fonseca’s first season. Some think he could be suited to the role while Roma wait to sign a proper option there, even if the sample size from which to judge past performances is small. Would using it as a starting position affect how he keeps up with the play? Or are the same things going to happen wherever his starting position?

Sometimes simpler explanations are the most true. Is it after all just a case of Mancini not reading the play well enough intrinsically?

The physical approach

Maybe Mancini is merely too rough, but Roma still – indeed, more than ever – need physical players up for the fight. He just needs to manage it in a way that means he isn’t literally causing them.

Certainly if he is to retain his leadership role, it will become important for the 25-year-old to stay more level-headed. (Even if other leaders over the years haven’t been immune to such issues, they haven’t been as frequent and there have been better factors to balance it out).

Of course, that doesn’t mean he should change his approach entirely. Being aggressive helped Mancini be more successful last season. But there is a line that can be crossed – and he has started stepping over it too often.

Fortunately for his sake, there are also question marks against Roma’s other defenders, so his place isn’t necessarily at risk. But the more the team struggle, the more people will look for a scapegoat – and he has been the subject of scrutiny in increasing measures recently.

Every team would find it useful to have a pantomime villain of sorts in their lineup, someone who opponents love to hate. But the way things are going for Mancini, even his own may not appreciate him. The role he is required to perform for Roma must be done more discretely and with better technique if he can.

Midway through his career, Mancini must realise what he must do to fine-tune his game and get back on track, because he remains a capable man. Now, he has to start showing it again.

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