Mario Draghi, who as European Central Bank chief was credited with saving the eurozone in 2012, has now been asked to help Italy out of its political and economic crisis amid the pandemic.
The Italian economist was asked on Wednesday by his country's president to form a government following the collapse of outgoing premier Giuseppe Conte's coalition.
He has agreed to try, during what he called “a difficult moment” for Italy, as the eurozone's third largest economy faces the ongoing coronavirus emergency and a punishing recession.
But as everything now depends on his abilty to bring together political forces to form a coalition government, is Draghi the man for the moment?
He became known as “Super Mario” after pledging to do “whatever it takes” to save the eurozone during the debt crisis that dominated the start of his 2011-2019 leadership of the European Central Bank.
Seven years later, he handed the reins of the ECB to Christine Lagarde, telling France's ex-finance minister to “never give up”.
The 73-year-old has no major political power base in Italy but the financial markets responded positively to the potential nomination of a cool but shrewd operator.
Draghi's name had been circulating for weeks as a top choice for leading Italy out of its current political crisis, sparked when a small party pulled out of Conte's ruling coalition.
Experts cited Draghi's experience, professionalism and determination as crucial attributes for a so-called “technocratic” government led by a non-politician, but conceded that wrangling Italy's warring parties to get behind him will not be easy.
“Mastering enough support over the next few days will not be straightforward,” said Lorenzo Codogno, an economist and consultant with LC Macro Advisors.
“It will not be a comfortable journey, but Draghi's skills and experience may well do the trick.”
Draghi was named to head the ECB in November 2011, succeeding Frenchman Jean-Claude Trichet in a eurozone shaken by the debt crisis.
Draghi at a handover ceremony with his ECB successor Christine Lagarde. Photo: AFP
The threat of the bloc's implosion hung over his tenure, alongside worries that the sovereign debt crisis in Greece would spread to other countries.
But under Draghi's leadership, the ECB took measures unthinkable when the euro single currency was launched in 2000: cutting interest rates to negative territory, and injecting liquidity into the markets through massive asset repurchases.
Draghi was born in Rome on September 3, 1947, and is married with two children.
He holds a degree in economics and a doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and is an economics professor at several Italian universities.
After spending six years at the World Bank from 1984 to 1990, he became director general of the Italian treasury in 1991, a position he held for ten years under nine separate governments, masterminding a number of privatisations during that period.
In 2002, he joined the management of Goldman Sachs before being tapped three years later to lead the Bank of Italy after a scandal involving its former head, Antonio Fazio.
Lorenzo Castellani, a political expert at Rome's Luiss University, said he believed a Draghi-led government would be “99 percent occupied by the pandemic and the recovery fund.”
But the economist still needs to secure a majority of support among lawmakers, before submitting to a vote of confidence in parliament.
So far the Democratic Party appears on board, as does Renzi, but the Five Star Movement (M5S), the biggest party in parliament once defined by its euroscepticism and anti-“elite” stance, is split.
One of the M5S leaders, Vito Crimi, warned: “This type of executive has already been adopted in the past, with extremely negative consequences for Italian citizens.”
News of Draghi's expected appointment was well-received by the financial market on Wednesday, with the Milan stock exchange rising three percent in midday trading, as he met Mattarella.
Before launching into a series of meetings with the parties on Wednesday, the would-be prime minister expressed determination to find a way forward.
“I am confident that from talks with parties, the parliamentary groups and unions, unity will emerge,” he said.