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It was not the most popular of appointments. When Antonio Conte departed his post as Juventus manager on the eve of pre-season in the summer of 2014, the Italian champions turned to Max Allegri – who had been sacked by Milan a few months previously – as their next boss. A handful of Juventus fans responded by pelting the former Pescara and Livorno midfielder with eggs upon his arrival in Turin; over two years on and the critics and naysayers have been emphatically made to eat their words.
Allegri’s tenure at Milan may have ended on a negative note, a 4-3 defeat by Sassuolo in January 2014 leaving the Rossoneri in the bottom half of the Serie A table, 30 points off top spot and just six above the relegation zone, but he actually did a very good job overall. In fact, Allegri’s reputation prior to his Juventus appointment was always much worse than it should have been, with the Italian enjoying success for much of his 11 years in management up to that point.
His first job came at fourth-tier side Aglianese, in 2003, the club he represented for two years as a player, before short-term spells with Real SPAL, Grosseto and Sassuolo further up the pyramid. In many ways, it was Allegri who kick-started the Neroverdi’s rise through the divisions, with Sassuolo – who have continued to impress ever since, culminating in their participation in the Europa League this term – winning promotion to Serie B for the first time in their history under his guidance.
That achievement earned Allegri a move to the big time, with top-flight outfit Cagliari luring him to the Stadio Comunale Sant’Elia ahead of the 2008-09 campaign. The Sardinians lost to Lazio (4-1), Siena (2-0), Juventus (1-0), Atalanta (1-0) and Lecce (2-0) in their first five matches that year, leading some to call for Allegri to be dimissed, but Cagliari stuck by their man and saw their patience rewarded before too long. The Rossoblu were defeated only three times in their next 17 Serie A outings – a run which included victories against Lazio and Juventus away from home – and finished the season in ninth place, with Allegri duly named Manager of the Year ahead of Inter’s title-winning chief José Mourinho.
Cagliari were headed for another solid mid-table finish the following year, but that did not stop the club removing Allegri from his position in April 2010 after a run of eight matches without a win; Cagliari’s loss was Milan’s gain, though, with the Rossoneri moving to install the then 42-year-old as Leonardo’s successor in June. His debut campaign in charge brought the Scudetto back to Milan’s trophy cabinet for the first time in seven years, the side from the second city finishing six points clear of rivals Inter at the summit of the Serie A standings after winning 24 and drawing 10 of their 38 fixtures.
A revitalised Juventus edged out Milan in 2011-12, Conte’s men finishing four points clear of Allegri’s charges, with the former’s signing of Andrea Pirlo from the latter the previous summer ultimately proving to be a decisive moment in the title race.
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Milan had fallen further down the table 12 months later, finishing third behind Juve and Napoli in 2012/13, but that does not tell the full story of what was actually a brilliant year of work by Allegri. A cost-cutting initiative introduced by owner Silvio Berlusconi saw Zlatan Ibrahimović, Thiago Silva, Alessandro Nesta, Clarence Seedorf, Gennaro Gattuso, Gianluca Zambrotta and Pippo Inzaghi all depart before the season began, but the ex-Cagliari boss still managed to guide Milan to a Champions League place thanks to 13 wins and only one defeat in the second half of the campaign.
Granted, Allegri could not have too many complaints when he was sacked the subsequent season, but Milan’s troubles since then have proven once and for all that their problems ran far deeper than the man in the dugout. Perhaps, then, those hostile Juventus fans were guilty of judging Allegri on unfair terms, a point he rammed home by winning the title by a 17-point margin and reaching the final of the Champions League in his first year at the helm.
He did it astutely, too, building on the foundations that Conte had left behind rather than tearing everything up immediately. Allegri did oversee two key changes, though: firstly, Juventus were much more tactically flexible under his guidance, regularly switching between a back three and a back four both during and between games; and secondly, slowing down the tempo and prioritising possession of the ball to a greater extent, with the Old Lady’s style of play becoming less intense under their calmer, more serene manager on the touchline.
Midfielder Claudio Marchisio summed up the differences between Conte and Allegri perfectly in an interview with Tuttosport: “He has made us understand that we will not dwell on a single formation – we have a list of qualities that allows us to change identity during the game,” Marchisio said of the man in August 2014. “With Conte everything was more planned and the results speak for themselves – three league titles in a row and two Super Cups. Now it is different, Allegri has a different idea of the game.
“We work mainly on the possession of the ball. In Europe it works well, we saw it again last year when we faced teams with little to them – they played safe football, while we experienced some difficulties. Will this improved imagination be best felt in Europe? Definitely.”
Marchisio was not wrong: Juventus may have lost 3-1 to Barcelona in the Champions League final, but they had exceeded expectations to get there in the first place. Although Allegri’s side were unable to match that accomplishment last term – Bayern Munich knocked the Bianconeri out of Europe’s premier club competition in the round of 16 – they did win a fifth consecutive Serie A title, and their dominance of the Italian game shows no sign of ending this year, either.
Allegri is not the only man Juventus have to thank for that but he has certainly played a major role in their continued success, while rebuilding his own unfairly tarnished reputation along the way.
By Greg Lea. Follow @GregLeaFootball