DOHA : Saudi Arabia coach Roberto Mancini criticised the players who left the national camp ahead of the Asian Cup due to a potential lack of playing time, saying on Monday that he only wanted players ready to fight for the shirt.
Goalkeeper Nawaf Al-Aqidi, midfielder Salman Al-Faraj and full back Sultan Al-Ghannam were excluded by Mancini ahead of the continental tournament in Qatar and the Italian manager said they were all in the initial list of players called up.
“They were on the list. Salman told me he doesn’t want to play in the friendly games. I asked Sultan if he was happy to play and he told me he wasn’t happy,” Mancini told reporters ahead of their group opener against Oman on Tuesday.
“Players don’t decide if they play or not, I decide. Nawaf told me he’d come but the day after, in Riyadh, he said he didn’t want to come. We tried to speak with him and put him on the list.
“Three days ago he went to our goalkeeper coach and said ‘I don’t want to stay here if I don’t get to play’. I only want players who fight for their country.”
Mancini, who has had a storied career as a manager with trophies in club football as well as a European Championship with Italy in 2021, said he had never seen players opting out of the national team before.
“I don’t understand when a young player refuses to come because he doesn’t know if he will play or not. The national team is not a club, it’s your country. You represent all the people in your country,” Mancini added.
“You should be happy if you’re a part of this group. This is a very strange situation and it’s the first time I’ve experienced this… But we’ve found other players to play.”
The Saudi team for the Asian Cup is not as experienced as the squad that shocked Argentina in the World Cup group stage in 2022 while even Oman have players with more international caps.
“We had these two weeks to work with the players. We know all players from Oman play regularly in the league and they’re probably stronger,” Mancini said.
“But we’re happy with the players we have, they want to fight for their country.
“Oman have good strikers and midfielders, they’re very dangerous in attack. For this reason tomorrow will be a difficult game.”