When Massimiliano Allegri walked into Juventus Stadium as the club’s new coach, he looked like a man who was not only fortunate to be there, but also out of place.
Everything happened quickly: Antonio Conte resigned two days into pre-season training, and Juventus needed a replacement—fast. Allegri was the most available of all the Italian managers. He had turned down a job with the Greece national team, and he was linked with West Ham (according to Italian magazine Panorama, via Football Italia) but he waited. No one could have expected him to get a top job like this.
Allegri was fired as coach of AC Milan in January of 2014 after a 4-3 loss to tiny Sassuolo. He is known for winning the Scudetto in his first year with the Rossoneri, but as the club sold their players and lost their veterans, they started to fall.
But Allegri was not innocent in it all: He used reductive and reactive tactics in games that mattered, he would not take control of matches, he would force his players to sit back, he would not allow his team to dictate games and go out to win them and his team played scared on the road—especially in the Champions League.
No one player really spoke badly about Allegri while playing under him. The stories since have come out. Gianluca Zambrotta reveals in his autobiography that Zlatan Ibrahimovic almost got into a fight with Allegri during the second leg of a Champions League round of 16 match against Arsenal. They were losing 3-0 by half-time, Milan’s 4-0 aggregate lead almost eradicated from the first leg, and Allegri reportedly said “it doesn’t matter.” In that same game, Allegri kept two goalkeepers on the bench.
“I didn’t have problems with Allegri the first year,” writes Zambrotta (h/t Football Italia), “but the second we lost the Scudetto due to mismanagement of the locker room.”
Of course, Allegri meets one of those disgruntled players again. Andrea Pirlo left Milan once the manager made it clear that he could no longer play in front of the defence, where Pirlo has always thrived.
The 35-year-old midfielder was basically told that “you can’t be Pirlo anymore.” It’s all in Pirlo’s own book, in which he reveals that he had a “normal kind of relationship” with Allegri. But the fact remains: When Milan won that Scudetto in 2011, there was little trust in Pirlo to do his job. So, like any ambitious player, he left.
Now the same man who discarded Pirlo says he has a “great relationship” with him. This is a common thing. Allegri tends to say things that do not fit the situation. At Milan, he praised players who did not deserve praise. He criticized his only stars. He did not keep the locker room whole. He simplified the message and reduced objectives to the bare minimum.
In 2013, when Milan were struggling to compete for a Champions League spot, Allegri told reporters (h/t Football Italia) that finishing in third place would be like winning the Scudetto. The most successful club in the world should not settle for third. It is this mentality that hurt the fans.
There was also a problem with fitness. Clarence Seedorf joined Milan midway through last season, picking up Allegri’s ashes, and the Dutchman told La Gazzetta dello Sport (h/t FIFA.com) that “the fitness levels I found here were not optimal. It's normal to struggle when you are behind in fitness since the start of the season.”
And Allegri is bringing that same fitness team with him.
Allegri's lead assistant at Juve will be Marco Landucci & the athletic coach will be Simone Folletti (both worked with Max at Milan)— David Amoyal (@DavidAmoyal) July 16, 2014
The number of injuries was also inexplicably high while Allegri was coaching Milan. Perhaps he rushed his players back into action too soon. At times he played his stars when he should have rested him.
A perfect example: losing Giampaolo Pazzini a few days before a big away game to Barcelona. Allegri decided to play Pazzini in a rather tepid game against Genoa, and the gamble failed. (Pazzini limped off the field that day in March of 2013, and he has never been the same since.) Mario Balotelli could not play in Europe, having already suited up in the Champions League for Manchester City, and so Milan had to rely on M’Baye Niang as their striker. Niang hit the post, and Milan were throttled 4-0.
Then there were the times he put players in awkward positions. He turned a tactically naive Kevin Constant into a left-back, wasting Stephan El Shaarawy and forcing him to run back and cover in defence. Allegri played Urby Emanuelson everywhere but in goal. This coach had his pet projects. He would target players in the market who did not fit the team's needs. It was hard to decipher.
Conte regularly rotated his squad, and Allegri is lacking in that category. Still, the Juventus squad he is inheriting is miles deeper than the last couple of Milan teams that he managed. He has the cast, and Juventus still have a very good chance of winning a fourth straight Scudetto. This is the best team in Italy with lots of class in defence, midfield and attack. They are not suddenly losing all of that.
But there are doubts over the future of major players. Reports vary. Journalists from The Mirror and The Guardian say that no contact has been made between Manchester United and Juventus for coveted midfielder Arturo Vidal, but reports from Marca and elsewhere suggest that a deal is done for €44 million.
Of course, Allegri would be “happy” to coach Vidal, Paul Pogba and all the others. That is beside the point. It is whether they are happy playing for him.
Allegri does shout off the bench, but he does not inspire like Conte. He does not train like Conte. “When Conte speaks,” writes Pirlo in his book, “his words assault you.” For a group of players still shocked at Conte’s resignation—“I don’t know why he left,” said Gianlugi Buffon, according to Goal.com—the transition to Allegri will be just as jarring.