5 Things Massimiliano Allegri Must Do to Be Successful at Juventus
This week has been shocking for Juventus and the club's fans. The team began preseason training on Monday, and less than a day later, the shocking announcement that coach Antonio Conte was parting ways with the club was made. Less than 24 hours after that, former AC Milan manager Massimiliano Allegri was introduced as the team's new manager.
The true reason for Conte's departure from Juve is likely an amalgamation of several different factors. At this point, however, it's a discussion that will be full of conjecture and contradiction. Time will tell what really went on behind the scenes. It's a subject for another article.
But while Juve's fans mourn the departure of the man who brought them three straight titles, the fact is that there is a season to prepare for. The Supercoppa Italiana against Napoli will be on August 23, and the Serie A season starts a week later. The team has to regroup and prepare to do its job.
Allegri will also have to quickly adjust to his new surroundings and figure out how to be successful at Juve.
What are some of the keys for him to keep Juventus on top of Italian soccer? Let's take a look at some.
Mend Fences with Andrea Pirlo
This may be what decides Juve's season. Can Allegri bury the hatchet with Andrea Pirlo, the man who he forced out at Milan three years ago?
The story is well known by followers of the Italian game. He had spent 10 seasons leading AC Milan to two Champions League titles and two Scudetti, but after an injury-plagued 2010-11, the club thought he was finished. His contract with the club ran out, and Milan made no attempt to resign him.
At best, Allegri did not advocate for his return. At worst, he helped push him out in favor of players like Massimo Ambrosini and Mark van Bommel.
The results were disastrous for Milan. Pirlo jumped to Juve on a Bosman and turned in three of the most impressive seasons of his career. He added more Scudetti to his name in those three years than he had in 10 at the San Siro.
Juve have gone 4-1-1 (W-L-D) in the league against the Rossoneri since the move and have eliminated them from the Coppa Italia twice.
Pirlo has been instrumental in that success. Many point to his absence—through injury—from Juve's fateful loss to Galatasaray in December as one of the deciding factors in the team's group-stage crash-out in the Champions League.
Allegri cannot marginalize Pirlo the way he did in their final season together in Milan. To do so would be suicidal.
So far he has said all the right things. In a news conference (as translated by Goal.com) he said that he had "always enjoyed a great relationship with him [Pirlo]" and said "I can justifiably state that I've never called his qualities into question. Otherwise people could justifiably say that I am a fool."
Pirlo, so far, has been silent.
Allegri has his deficiencies as a manager, but he is no fool. He has to know how important Pirlo's influence is to this team.
The maestro will almost certainly remain on the field, but will a toxic relationship behind the scenes torpedo the season? Allegri needs to take steps to make sure it doesn't.
Keep Everyone Where They Belong
One of the knocks on Allegri during his time at Milan was his willingness to play people out of position.
He tried to convert midfielder Kevin Constant to left-back. The results left much to be desired, especially with Constant blocking the route of young starlet Mattia De Sciglio.
Urby Emanuelson was another player who was moved around the field constantly. He played as a winger, a trequartista and a defensive midfielder in his time under Allegri.
The squad Allegri inherits have, for the most part, clearly defined roles. Allegri must be sure not to disrupt those roles.
There are a few players who Allegri might be tempted to shift. Angelo Ogbonna and Giorgio Chiellini both played left-back early in their careers—indeed, even under Conte on certain occasions. They are not, however, suited for playing that position long-term at this point in their careers. They need to be kept in the middle.
Another tempting prospect would be to experiment with the talent of 19-year-old Kingsley Coman. The youngster comes from PSG on a Bosman and is an attacking midfielder by trade, with some experience on the wing. But he is far from a finished product, and tinkerer like Allegri could be tempted to try to mold him into a position he may not be suited for.
Juve have been superbly successful in the three years this squad has been together. Allegri shouldn't disrupt that chemistry by trying to move people around.
Don't Tinker Too Much with Tactics
Allegri's penchant for tactical tinkering goes somewhat hand-in-hand with his tendency to tinker with positions. This tinkering, however, has produced some better results than his positional merry-go-round.
Some of Allegri's tactical shifts have been spot-on. Adjustments he made for the first leg of the Champions League round of 16 against Arsenal in 2011-12 saw an unexpected 4-0 pummeling at the San Siro.
At the same stage of the competition the next year, his tweaks resulted in a truly stunning 2-0 victory over Barcelona.
It can be said that Allegri, like the ancient Carthaginian general Hannibal, knew how to win but not to use his victory.
In 2012 Milan very nearly squandered that gigantic lead when they lost 3-0 at the Emirates Stadium. In 2013 they allowed Lionel Messi an early moment of brilliance and ended up losing the return leg 4-0. Even then, they were the width of the post away from taking a crucial away goal when the aggregate was standing at a flat-footed 2-2.
Much of this tinkering, especially toward the end of his time at Milan, stemmed from the fact that he wasn't being supported by the club's directors with good players. Indeed, the Rossoneri were selling his best players off, forcing Allegri to improvise with a below-par team.
Allegri shouldn't have that problem at Juventus. He also comes into a situation where the tactics and player roles have been very clearly defined and very successful.
It's natural to see some tactical changes when a new manager arrives at a club. Allegri, however, should make sure those changes are minimal. He isn't an expert on Conte's 3-5-2, but Conte looked primed to switch back to the 4-3-3 after receiving new players on the transfer market.
The conventional wisdom over the last few years has been that the 3-5-2 has flaws that won't allow it to compete with elite European competition. The recent World Cup, however, should challenge that notion. Several nations, including Mexico, Costa Rica, the Netherlands and on occasion Chile, put in impressive performances at the tournament playing formations that could switch efficiently between 5-3-2 and 3-5-2 depending on the situation.
Allegri should look at the World Cup and re-evaluate whether the 3-5-2—which is still the best fit for the team as it is currently constituted—can compete at that level. If he decides not and wishes to go back to a four-man line, he'll need to wait for the proper personnel in the transfer market.
Speaking of which...
Salvage the Mercato
You won't see many bad things said about Antonio Conte in this space, but one that you will hear is that the timing of his resignation was downright terrible.
As late as Tuesday morning Juve was in pole position for landing Hellas Verona starlet Juan Iturbe to play the wing in a revamped tactical setup. Within hours of Conte's departure, Iturbe was sold to one of their biggest rivals to the title, Roma.
Sky Sport have reported that Morata has already spoken with Allegri and is likely to complete his move (via Football Italia). Evra, on the other hand, seems to be more on the fence. The web site Give Me Sport has relayed a report from Tuttosport that Evra is looking to take a few days to reflect on things now that Conte is gone—although La Gazzetta dello Sport (via Football Italia) have claimed that his negotiations are on course as well.
The beginning of the transfer window has certainly gotten off to a rocky start. But now that Allegri is in the manager's chair, Juve have drawn up a new list of targets for the rest of Europe's silly season.
The same Football Italia item names former Fiorentina man and Juve target Stevan Jovetic as a potential signing. Lucas Moura, Javier Pastore and Tottenham wantaway Erik Lamela are also mooted. So is PSG's Javier Pastore, a tormentor of the team when Palermo filled the role of Juve's bogey team in the mid 2000s.
Allegri needs to convince potential targets that there won't be a drop-off in the team's quality under his stewardship. If he doesn't, a team that may have been one good window away from taking the next step will be set back several seasons—and he likely won't be around to see the result.
Keep the Squad Healthy
Fitness may be the worst aspect of Allegri's management.
The injury history at Milan during his reign was horrific. Alexandre Pato went from one of the world's brightest young strikers to hardly ever being fit and exiled to Brazilian club Corinthians.
Last year, bright young stars Mattia De Sciglio and Stephan El Shaarawy lost the majority of the season with various muscular injuries. They weren't the only ones.
After Milan beat Barcelona in the Champions League two years ago, Allegri used Giampaolo Pazzini, the only striker he had who wasn't cup-tied, in a dull match against Genoa to try to force a result.
Pazzini injured a muscle, forcing Allegri to use M'baye Niang at the Camp Nou. With the aggregate tied at two, the young Frenchman broke free behind the Barca defense—and crashed a shot into the post.
Barca would score twice more and Milan would be eliminated.
Shortly after Milan was eliminated from this year's Champions League, Allegri's successor, Clarence Seedorf, said to La Gazzetta dello Sport (h/t FIFA.com): "I've said more than once that the fitness levels I found here were not optimal. It's normal to struggle when you have are [sic] behind in fitness since the start of the season."
A team can't be successful if its best players cannot play. Juve fans know what a selection crisis is like. Injuries and suspensions forced seven players to play six consecutive games at the height of the Europa League knockout stages, and the team was running on fumes by the end.
Allegri was known for not rotating his squad at Milan—although he didn't have as deep a squad as he will be afforded at Juve. Still, he must keep the team healthy. If he doesn't Juve will be doomed—and he will once again be unemployed.