EXCLUSIVE: Unsettled Mancini joins the race for Socceroos job

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Roberto Mancini has become the latest coaching luminary to express an interest in leading Australia into action at the FIFA World Cup.

Sources close to the 53-year-old - currently in charge of Russian Premier League side Zenit St Petersburg - have revealed he is open to an approach from FFA, amid speculation he is wanted as Italy’s next coach and is also being courted by struggling AC Milan.

In a sign of just how alluring the Socceroos vacancy has become, former Belgium coach Marc Wilmots, Dutch legend Ruud Gullit and Brazil great Zico, this week have also simultaneously put their hands up for the gig.

They join the list of hitters including Louis van Gaal, Luiz Felipe Scolari, Marcelo Bielsa, Ralf Rangnick and Sven-Goran Erikkson, who are already in contention.

Interviews for Ange Postecoglou’s successor, to be coordinated by FFA’s Head of High Performance Luke Casserly, are due to begin next week, with a decision by mid-February.

Mancini, who steered Inter Milan to three successive Scudettos and Manchester City to a maiden Premier League title, is dissatisfied with life in St Petersburg - despite his $13 million salary - and is canvassing opportunities elsewhere, with the prospect of a World Cup assignment piquing his interest.

Engin Durmus, of AFS Sports Management which has been liaising with Mancini’s European-based representatives, said that if Italy, who missed out on Russia, do not gazump Australia, Mancini would likely accept the Green and Gold job if it was offered.

“He’s under contract at Zenit but has never coached a national team, and what better way to start than at the World Cup?” he said.

“He would be a really strong candidate for Australia and I believe he would bring a new spirit and excitement to the team heading towards Russia."

While Mancini’s preference would be the Azzurri, no formal offer has been made, or accepted, to replace the sacked Giampiero Ventura.

Mancini, who has also coached Sampdoria, Lazio and Gatasaray, has guided Zenit to 17 wins and eight draws in his 31 games in charge, would have to substantially lower his wage expectations to fall into line with FFA’s $1 million World Cup budget.

Also covetously eyeing one of football’s hottest jobs is Wilmots, who piloted Belgium to the quarter-finals in Brazil 2014, before being sacked after a lacklustre Euro 2016 campaign.

He is, however, credited with blooding a bevy of youngsters during his four-year stint who have gone on to thrive in the Premier League and make Belgium one of the leading contenders to win this year’s World Cup.

Wilmots, 48, was axed by Ivory Coast in November after just six months in charge - the price for failing to guide the Elephants to a fourth successive World Cup.

Gullit, 55, has managed Chelsea, Newcastle, Feyenoord, LA Galaxy and Russians Terek Grozny.

But the last of those assignments was in 2011 before he switched back from a media career to an assistant role alongside Dick Advocaat with the Dutch national team.

But it all went pear-shaped, with the Netherlands failing to qualify for Russia.

Zico, 64, coached Japan at the 2006 World Cup and 2004 AFC Asian Cup, which they won.

He also coached Iraq, and eight club sides including Fenerbahce, CSKA Moscow and Olympiacos.

His most recent assignment was at FC Goa, in the Indian Super League, which ended in 2016.

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