Feature Photo: Antonio Calanni / AP
In a crazy month of May that is redesigning the geography of Serie A, Juventus decided to part ways with trainer Massimiliano Allegri. The separation between the Italian league title holders and their winning coach was announced last Friday, and made official yesterday in a sober press conference in perfect Juve-style, featuring smiles, courtesies and handshakes between Allegri and Juventus’ chairman Andrea Agnelli, who labelled the dismissal of the Tuscanian coach as “the most difficult decision I had to take since I am President.”
Allegri leaves Juventus after five years in which he conquered five Scudetto, four Coppa Italia, and two Italian Supercups. He still had one year of contract with the Bianconeri, but the Turin-based club’s board decided that the time had come for a change of direction.
The 52-year-old coach was handed by Agnelli a Juventus jersey with a number five and the words “history alone,” before almost getting emotional and struggling to hold back tears as he bid farewell to the white-and-blacks: “When we met yesterday, we discussed our views about the future of Juventus. I shared my opinion, but the club decided I was not the coach anymore.”
Despite failing to reach the main target – that Champions League which has been missing from Juventus’ showcase since 23 years – Allegri saluted the club as an absolute winner, having recorded the highest success percentage of any Bianconeri coach ever. He did so, moreover, after having silenced a horde of critics and haters who had targeted him with a good deal of skepticism since the very first day he set foot in the capital city of Piedmont.
Because – raise your hands, those of you who seriously believed that Massimiliano Allegri would end up doing better than his predecessor Antonio Conte, and his three titles in a row. Allegri was welcomed at the Continassa – Juventus’ training center – with mumbling and raised eyebrows by supporters, commentators, and likely even those who were supposed to back him up.
Indeed, in the summer of 2014, one of The Cult of Calcio’s future contributors found himself having a casual conversation with a person very close to Juventus’ management. Our “source” confessed off-the-record that, after Conte’s departure, the Bianconeri were expecting to have a transition season. “It’s going to be one of those seasons,” in his own words, “that you wouldn’t wish to any team.”
Massimiliano Allegri, he went on to say, had been chosen as the new Juventus’ trainer simply because there was no better figure available on the market. But the truth was that “nobody wanted him.”
We don’t know whether our source’s speculations actually reflected the club’s real position, but one thing is for sure: When Allegri took command of the Bianconeri troops, he was far from being considered a top class trainer.
Sure, he had won a Scudetto during his precedent four-year stint as Milan coach. However, his experience in red-and-black had ended six months earlier with a humiliating esonero in the middle of the season – the worst possible setback for a football coach.
By accepting the job at Juventus, Allegri knew that he had more to lose than to gain, if not economically. The team he inherited from Conte had built a crushing superiority over the Serie A pursuing pack, with no realistic contenders in sight. Any new coach had no other option but continuing to win, despite Juventus’ alleged expectations of a transition phase. Keep winning, Max, and you have done exactly what you were supposed to. Make one mistake, and you are done: Haters were right.
And, well, not only did Allegri continue to win, dominating the next Serie A league from the first to the last round. He also brought Juve so darn close to their obsessive chimera, reaching the Champions League Final at first try and only losing it to an objectively stronger Barcelona.
The rest is a story of a domestic supremacy which became more and more appalling year after year. Juventus’ Scudetto-winning streak extended to eight titles in a row, with Allegri scoring a perfect five out of five. In the 2015-2016 season, the Old Lady managed to bounce back from a shocking start which saw them plummeting to -11 points from the top, and ultimately prevailed thanks to an unprecedented 15-game winning streak. In the following two seasons, they bent Napoli’s strenuous resistance despite coach Maurizio Sarri’s genius, and their explosive attacking force.
Even in Coppa Italia, Allegri’s Juve took it all and showed no mercy: Milan and Lazio had alternate chances to undermine the Bianconeri’s domination, as they each twice challenged them in the Final. Juventus forced their way with such performances like a sounding 4-0 win over the Rossoneri last year, thus becoming the most winning club even when it comes to the Italian league cup. Only Atalanta did finally manage to stain Allegri’s immaculate Coppa Italia record, as in March they pushed the Bianconeri out of the competition for the first time in five years.
But rules are strict at the most winning Italian club. The marginal added value of yet another league title or cup started to decrease as years went by, and Juventus’ claim to the European throne kept being rejected. If losing to Barcelona in the 2015 last act could be acceptable, a 1-4 trashing from Real Madrid in the 2017 Final was probably the event that opened the first cracks into Allegri’s relationship with La Vecchia Signora.
Since the slaughter in Cardiff, Juve collected two Quarter Finals eliminations in a row, succumbing again to Cristiano Ronaldo’s Real Madrid in 2018, and then to Ajax last month – despite featuring CR7 on their side, this time. That is when the Bianconeri, from chairman Andrea Agnelli, to board members Fabio Paratici and Pavel Nedved, decided that their manager’s cycle had come to an end.
Massimiliano Allegri said he doesn’t know yet what he will do now. Perhaps he will take a break from coaching. More likely, he will answer the call of some other club – rumors say Paris Saint Germain – in need of a winning mentality. Because if there’s one thing that good old Max is not lacking, that is determination.
A determination that allowed him to recover from a shocking start as a Serie A young coach in 2008 – when an initial five-game losing streak had put his first job in Cagliari already at risk – and to keep going despite continuous criticism about his teams, including Juventus, “not playing good.”
Allegri always shrugged his shoulders at that, and remained loyal to a very simple and cynical philosophy, which he made once again clear during his last appearance in the Allianz Stadium press room: “You can’t help it. Those who win, are the best.”
And, well, Massimiliano Allegri surely knows a thing or two about winning.