Former Inter Boss Roberto Mancini Holds the Key to Zenit's Future

Sergey ZikovSenior Analyst IAugust 19, 2009

GENOA, ITALY - FEBRUARY 24:  Inter Milan's head coach Roberto Mancini waves during the Serie A match between UC Sampdoria and Inter Milan at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris on February 24, 2008 in Genoa, Italy.  (Photo by NewPress/Getty Images)

Oh, how quickly fortunes can change in the world of club football.

Only a few weeks ago, Zenit St. Petersburg were dead and buried, sitting 10 points back of Rubin Kazan in the Russian Premier League. Under Dick Advocaat, the club put together a string of horrific performances that not only prompted the Dutch tactician's firing, but the departure of center forward Pavel Pogrebnyak.

But one man may have changed the luck of everyone.

Nearly three weeks ago, Torino captain Alessandro Rosina decided to leave Serie A and become the first Italian to ever bear the kit of Zenit St. Petersburg. The playmaking midfielder not only scored on his debut at the Petrovsky Stadium, but scored in a most magnificent fashion.

It is also very true that once a door is opened, more people will comeand this might be the exact case for Zenit. As it turns out with the club scouring the Apennine Peninsula, perhaps not just one Italian will be heading east this summer.

The search for a new manager began even before Advocaat was sacked. When he accepted to leave Zenit at the end of the year to manage the Belgian national team, club president Maxim Mitrofanov wanted to keep his options open.

Even a former player in Aleksandr Kerzhakov had a suggestion for who might do well as Zenit's new manager when he tipped that ex-Sevilla boss Juande Ramos would be a good fit.

Since then, Zenit has looked at candidates as widespread as Azerbaijan's manager to Sven Goran Eriksson. But now, the race seems to have become far more serious as Advocaat has now gone.

The sights are now firmly set on former Internazionale manager Roberto Mancini. The club directors have lauded his abilities and thought very highly of the style of football he wants to play. It turns out, Mancini is also looking to get back into a job. After winning three straight Italian titles, he could not replicate that success in European play.

As he has eloquently stated: "I have not signed any contract, but the project is interesting."

Interesting indeed.

By taking over Zenit, Mancini would have the command of a club that has not only found European success over the last several years, but have a great chance to accomplish even greater victories.

Although he was removed at Inter, many players still think very highly of him. So highly, that they would accept a transfer to Russia to play under him at Zenit. Two of those may be Italian left-back Fabio Grosso and Macedonian striker Goran Pandev.

Russia Today earlier reported that although the Olympique Lyonnais defender has been negotiating with Zenit for about a week now, the hiring of Mancini would surely bring him to St. Petersburg. The 32-year-old had an offer from Juventus, but he is insisting that the coach is most important to him.

The addition of Grosso would only bolster a fine defensive back line. Headed by Russian international right-back Alexander Anyukov, Zenit's defense also fields two more internationals in Fernando Meira and Ivica Krizanac.

Even if he could not make every start, he would add very valuable depth and a superb left foot.

Mancini also apparently holds the keys to another excellent piece in striker Goran Pandev. Recently, after Pandev's desire for a move from Lazio, he was dropped from the starting line by Claudio Lotito for opposing him. If a lucrative contract from Zenit was not enough to lure him to Russia, Roberto Mancini could be the final push that is needed.

The 25-year-old would have an immediate place in Zenit's line, as the club has been starved for a decent striker for a long time. Although Pavel Pogrebnyak led the team in scoring, he was extremely slow and only a force inside the box. Pandev brings many more dimensions.

However, the only kink in the final push for Mancini is that he is still under contract with Inter. But it's very doubtful that they would object to shedding his contract once and for all.

As everyone knew at the beginning of summer, the club would have a very different look once August and September came around.

But even after the losses of Anatoliy Tymoschuk, Pavel Pogrebnyak, Andrei Arshavin, and Danny to injury, it is possible that Zenit could be an even better team than they were last year when they won the UEFA Cup.