NO matter how old I get, the mere mention of the Italian national football team is accompanied by a voice in my head screaming: “Golazo!”

Saturday mornings in the company of James Richardson, Kenneth Wolstenholme and the occasional cameo from Gazza or Paul Ince – that, to this writer in his early teens was television perfection.

Gazzetta Football Italia on Channel Four could only possibly be rivalled by Fantasy Football League as the greatest show ever anchored on sport, and that is a hill on which I am willing to die.

Fuelled by a love of Batistuta, Baggio and Francesco Baiano (pretty good at Derby County but amazing on Championship Manager Italia), I refused to let go of my fascination with all things Serie A right the way through the nineties and into the noughties, when life, love and the country’s tawdry match-fixing scandals popped the bubble somewhat.

It wasn’t until 2018 when Italy did the unthinkable and failed to quality for a World Cup Finals that I actually started to focus in again on what was going on with the Azzurri.

World champions in 2006, European Championship runners up either side in 2000 and 2012, Italian strength at major competitions was a universal rule, all in the presence of some of my timeless teen heroes – Totti, Maldini, Costacurta and later Pirlo, Inzaghi, Cannavaro, Buffon.

And it seems Italian football had been trapped in the same bubble. Their inability to move with the times resulted in a massive collapse, a first World Cup spent watching from the outside in 60 years.

After Giampiero Ventura was fired, Luigi di Biagio stepped up from the Under-21s in a prolonged caretaker role and half the squad announced their international retirement. Roberto Mancini then took the reins – and what looked a dreadful job – in May 2018, and immediately started calling up players left, right and centre, some of whom had hardly played a single top-flight game for their club.

This Big Bang Theory started to work. What is more, Mancini brought a little bit of the flair and industry he had as a player to the team, making them less traditional Catenaccio, more like the high-tempo brand we have come to recognise in the Premier League.

Mancini had, of course, broken the curse as manager of Manchester City and finally turned some of the mutli-millions spent by the club’s owners into proper silverware. I always felt the importance of that first big trophy has been rather glossed over by what has happened since under Manuel Pellegrini and Pep Guardiola.

In the past few years, what once looked a jumble of inexperience, and the odd older head, has now settled into a very strong and balanced side.

Yes, you can point to the elder statesmen at centre-half, Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci, and say they may struggle against some of the more mobile front men Euro 2020 may throw at them, yes Marco Veratti is likely to miss the first couple of games with an injury and, yes, without the similarly experienced Ciro Immobile there is no definitive goal machine in the team, but a 27-match unbeaten run speaks for itself.

They have one of the world’s best keepers in Gianluigi Donnarumma, a lovely midfield triumvirate of Jorghino, Manuel Locatelli and Nicolo Barella (with Veratti to slot in at a later date), and the always-watchable Fredrico Chiesa, whose father Enrico was one of the Saturday morning staples of my youth in his days at Parma.

The Italians won all 10 of their qualifiers for this competition, something they have never done before, and they have a group in which they should cruise to qualification. They did it only conceding four goals – and were by no means defensive, but that probably won’t stop a few stereotypical views from spilling out of the pundits lips this evening when they open the tournament against Turkey in Rome.

Although, clearly, I will be banging the drum for Gareth Southgate and England this summer, draped at some point in an England flag and shouting the words to Three Lions and Vindaloo at the top of my lungs, my teenage hipster incarnation will also be cheering on the Italians, probably sipping a ristretto outside a café and reading the newspapers with James Richardson.