Who Will Manage Serie A's Top Sides Next Season and Why
With a few matchdays still to play this season, it's too soon to know for sure who the 20 men on Serie A's benches will be next August. We don't even know where all those benches will be yet, because the battles against relegation and for promotion are still too close to call.
But to whet the appetites of those among the calcio faithful who can't wait for 2013-14 to begin, here's a who's who of next year's managerial contenders.
Juventus: Antonio Conte for Obvious Reasons
He's two for two in Serie A, and his Juventus didn't do too badly in Europe, either. Antonio Conte's certain to be on the bench in Turin next year, despite rumours to the contrary.
The club hierarchy would have to be crazy to let him leave, and Conte himself would be mad to go now. It's too soon. For the most part his squad is young and getting better with time.
There's sure to be the addition of some finishing touches over the summer, and given the fact that his side's defeat to Bayern Munich can now be put in the context of what the Germans did to Barcelona, there's every reason for the Bianconeri to believe they can do some damage in the Champions League next season.
On top of that, there are few managers in world football who could command the respect and goodwill that Conte does at Juventus. As a player he was a formidable figure and a key member of a legendary side. As a manager he's rebuilt Italy's biggest club and led them to back-to-back league titles.
He'd be an impossible act to follow.
Fiorentina: Vincenzo Montella...or Will It Be?
Vincenzo Montella's stock has never been higher. He did a fine job steadying the ship when he took over at Roma post-Claudio Ranieri in 2011 and a better job in Sicily with Catania in 2012. But since taking over at Fiorentina, the former Giallorossi front man has proved himself to be one of the game's most exciting young coaches.
Opinionated, confident, intelligent and unafraid to stick to his guns, Montella is in many ways the perfect young coach for any aspiring side. Which is why Fiorentina might be worried.
He certainly has a fine squad in Florence, full of talented young players with whom he can hope to plan for the future, but it might be hard for Montella to resist the lure of a bigger club. Hoping to avoid any troubles, the powers that be in Tuscany are reportedly ready to offer Montella a long-term deal and improved terms.
That said, the Viola can't compete with Europe's big guns financially, and should the club deem it prudent to sell key players like Stevan Jovetic, then the manager might just think it wise to head for the door.
AC Milan: A Disaster Waiting to Happen
AC Milan had a poor start to this season, but Max Allegri's turned it around. In the process, he's also improved a young side incrementally and laid a solid foundation for Rossoneri success in the years to come. For his rebuilding work alone, Allegri deserves to be left alone.
Despite all this, his name's been on the lips of every football tipster for months, and reports here in Italy suggest that club owner Silvio Berlusconi is ready to change. Somewhat ridiculously, the former Italian prime minister looks set to appoint a former player to the position.
Clarence Seedorf, Filippo Inzaghi, Mark van Bommel and Alessandro Costacurta have all been mentioned, in what sounds to this observer as 2+2=5 logic based on two coaches very much in vogue at the moment.
Conte and Montella are making headlines for the right reasons, but Berlusconi should remember that in recent seasons former players like Luis Enrique, Ciro Ferrara and his own Leonardo did not work out so well.
Roma: Anyone's Guess
Would winning the upcoming Coppa Italia final against fierce rivals Lazio be enough to keep Aurelio Andreazzoli in the Roma hot seat for 2013-14? Maybe. But though the Tuscan seems to be popular at the training ground, there is a feeling that the Lupi's American backers will want someone more high-profile in charge next year.
The last two seasons in the capital have been difficult, primarily because of coaching choices.
The somewhat naive move of bringing in Barcelona B's Luis Enrique and hoping he'd turn Roma into a sort of Barca-lite, followed by the fractious nature of Zdenek Zeman's reign leave the Giallorossi in desperate need of some stability and consistent results next season.
Milan's Max Allegri and Napoli's Walter Mazzarri have been heavily linked, as has Manchester City's Roberto Mancini. The latter is unlikely given his links to Lazio and the rivalry Roma shared with Inter while he was on the bench there, but anything's possible.
Fiorentina's Montella is a legend at the Stadio Olimpico, and there's no doubt he'd be a popular appointment. So would Carlo Ancelotti, who played in the great Roma side of the 1980s. One senior Italian politician even suggested that they should splash out on Jose Mourinho.
On paper this is one of the strongest sides in the league, with some incredibly talented young players and a large, passionate fanbase. The right manager could work wonders.
Inter: Andrea Stramaccioni Is the Sensible Choice
Inter need to do the sensible thing and hang on to Andrea Stramaccioni.
The team has a lot of problems and this season's been a disaster, but it wasn't all his fault. As I've said already here, the young tactician was tasked with overseeing a period of great upheaval in Milan, and having guided them through the worst of it he now deserves the chance to rebuild the Nerazzurri the way he wants.
From the club's perpective, it makes sense to stick rather than twist. This year's been a steep learning curve for a coach who seems adaptive and intelligent. If Inter let him go now, they'll just be sending off a manager who's learned some valuable lessons at their expense.
Napoli: The End of an Era?
It's easy to forget that when Walter Mazzarri took over Napoli midseason in 2009, the Partenopei had only been back in Serie A for two years. In that context, his work on the bench in Naples has been exemplary. Not only have they challenged consistently, they've shaken up the usual Italian hierarchy that dictates Serie A should be controlled by the peninsula's northern clubs.
Napoli have become popular with neutrals the world over thanks not only to excellent players like Edinson Cavani, but also to Mazzarri's tactics. By way of an example, his mercurial Uruguayan forward scored 34 goals in 109 league games at his previous club, Palermo.
In Naples, it's 72 in 100.
Mazzarri's attacking, confident style has naturally led to him being linked with several clubs, including rivals Roma and even the EPL's Manchester City (according to TuttoSport h/t TribalFootball). Should he leave, club owner Aurelio De Laurentiis will have a job finding anyone better.
Watford manager Gianfranco Zola, who won a Scudetto with Diego Maradona in 1989 while at Napoli, might be an outside bet to replace him.
Lazio: Vladimir Petkovic Deserves Another Chance
In a league known for its impatience with managers, few would have figured that the unheralded Vladimir Petkovic would still be in the job at Lazio come May. But the Bosnian coach has worked wonders at the Biancocelesti, even if they couldn't quite keep up their early season form.
Having been in the running at the top of the table for so long, there will doubtless be some who are quick to criticise the coach. They shouldn't. Petkovic has a solid enough starting XI, but little else. Injuries and fatigue have taken their toll throughout the season and realistically, all of the clubs above the Aquile in the table right now are there because they have more experience and more strength in depth.
Lazio have the Coppa Italia final against Roma to look forward to, which, win or lose, is a feat in itself for Petkovic.
If he can make a few clever additions over the summer, they might be even more impressive next season.