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Matteo Renzi, the football fan mayor taking on Italy's elite

By Nina Dos Santos, CNN
updated 5:28 PM EST, Mon February 17, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Matteo Renzi is incoming PM of Italy, a country with a fractious governing system
  • It's not clear how the 39-year-old will garner more support than his predecessors
  • The country has problems including its two trillion euro debt pile and high unemployment
  • But Renzi has shown he is a long-distance player -- and has youth and stamina on his side

Editor's note: Nina dos Santos is a news anchor and correspondent based in London. She is the host of CNN International's twice-daily global business show World Business Today and regularly presents various feature shows and documentaries. Follow her on Twitter.

London (CNN) -- Il Rottomatore -- or "the demolition man" -- is how Italy's incoming prime minister has come to be known, thanks in part to his pugnacious approach to politics.

Matteo Renzi's nickname hardly bodes well for drumming up support in one of the most fractious governing systems on the planet, one which has speared all but one of its governments since World War II.

Then again, the 39-year-old's backers say this football-fan Mayor of Florence is precisely the breath of fresh air needed in Rome's stuffy halls of power.

Neither an MP nor an elected premier, Renzi has managed to wrest control of the party's leadership by promising to smash the gridlocked reform process and shift its axis to the center.

How he thinks he will manage to garner more support than career politicians, like his predecessor Enrico Letta, is as yet unclear.

What's more: Renzi had initially vowed only to seek the top job through the ballot box and not a leadership contest, meaning some are skeptical about what he stands for.

Is Matteo Renzi ready to be Italian PM?

''What Renzi's done is gutsy,'' says Giuseppe Ragusa of the Luiss Guido Carli University in Rome. ''But he is not going to have the public's support; he doesn't have the votes from the electoral poll. So this is going to be a difficulty.

Expert: Berlusconi not going anywhere

Instead Ragusa says Italy is hoping that by virtue of his youth and dynamism Renzi will have the energy ''to do something very quickly."

Future of Europe's economy

Something, being the optimal word.

Italy has been crying out for a plausible, long-term economic agenda for years, leaving the country wholly unprepared for the economic slump of recent years.

Often described as his country's answer to Tony Blair, Renzi is good at talking the big picture, which is probably just as well because Italy's problems aren't small.

First there's a two trillion-euro debt pile to shrink, record unemployment, crippling and antiquated labor laws not to mention stifling business and payroll taxes.

Still, top of the list for Renzi, will be moves to create the kind of political stability where such measures can actually take hold.

This means ploughing on with plans to reform the parliamentary system in a move which is likely to cost the country its upper house -- or senate -- in its current form.

However, Renzi may be on a collision course with Brussels after suggesting the EU give his nation some leeway to breach its 3% limit on the budget deficit in order to support a recent return to growth.

Vincenzo Scarpetta of London-based think tank Open Europe says Renzi will have to prove himself on the international stage. ''He is relatively little known compared to his two predecessors,'' says Scarpetta. ''So he will have to act quickly.''

Yet if anything, Renzi is a long distance player.

A marathon runner and keen sportsman, Renzi already has an eye on the distant horizon -- saying he wishes to see this term through until the next election in 2018.

Addressing reporters after being asked to form a government by Italy's President -- as protocol dictates -- Renzi said it would likely take a few days to get his key people in place. ''But I assure you,'' he said, ''I will give this commitment all the energy I have.''

Commitment is something this former boy scout is known for and at less than half of the age of Silvio Berlusconi, Renzi certainly has energy.

But he'll need more than stamina to succeed. Above all, he must find support.

READ MORE: Is Matteo Renzi ready to be Italy's PM?

WATCH MORE: The future of Europe's economy

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