“The objective is always to continue to win. We want to continue our cycle of victories.” The aim is clear for Massimiliano Allegri. The words of sporting director Giuseppe Marotta at the unveiling of the new Juventus Coach were patent and to the point.
Having won the last three titles - one unbeaten and the most recent with a record points total of 102 - Juventus sit head and shoulders above everyone else in Serie A.
Last term, Roma came second with 85 points. That would have won them the Scudetto in five of the last seven seasons, yet they were 17 points adrift of the Bianconeri. Departing Coach Antonio Conte has set a benchmark that is dauntingly high and leaves his replacement Allegri with an unenviable task - one that many believe he is under qualified for.
Around 300 Juventus fans protested the former Milan man’s appointment outside the club’s headquarters yesterday evening, while a handful of leading ultras were even allowed into the grounds to vent their frustration.
The message is clear, yet Allegri believes he can get the tifosi onside. “I understand the scepticism of the fans,” he insisted. “How to win them over? With results, work, respect and professionalism.”
His first job will be to repair his relationship with Andrea Pirlo. It was Allegri, after all, who was a leading voice in allowing him to leave Milan for Juventus in the summer of 2011. The tactician started the charm offensive in his Press conference, noting that he is” “lucky to be working with him again.”
Allegri gets a second chance with Pirlo due to a managerial resume that is smattered with several notable achievements. His promotion to Serie B with Sassuolo, in 2008, highlighted his potential as a promising Coach and he was subsequently snapped up by Cagliari. His debut season in Sardinia was successful - he led Cagliari to ninth - and he was awarded the Panchina d’Oro. Whilst surprisingly replaced towards the end of his second season with the Rossoblu, Allegri was handed his big break in June 2010, when Milan came calling.
The Rossoneri had gone six seasons without winning the Scudetto, but with the goals of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Alexandre Pato and Robinho, Allegri was able to pip city rivals Inter to the title. That victory was supposed to be a building block, but the emergence of Conte’s Juventus, the subsequent sales of Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva and a lack of investment made Allegri’s job increasingly difficult over the next three seasons and he was eventually sacked in January.
In those two-and-a-half seasons the followed the Scudetto victory, Allegri did, however, show good aspects of his coaching that will perhaps reassure Juventus fans.
His ability to adapt and to find solutions with an incomplete squad and substandard players was vital in securing an unlikely third placed finish in the 2012-13 campaign. His clever, yet subtle tactical tweaks that earned famous wins over Arsenal and Barcelona will also be welcome at a club that has underwhelmed in the Champions League. He also arguably should have broken Juventus’ unbeaten run in Conte’s debut season, when Sulley Muntari’s goal was wrongly disallowed.
Despite his successes, Allegri will know he has to adapt. He needs to be more assured and composed at crucial moments, while his training methods that have seemingly lead to injuries and questionable levels of fitness should be tweaked.
The 46 year-old inherits a squad that is set in its ways and at its peak. Allegri cannot improve on what Conte’s achieved with them domestically, but he has to continue with the strong foundations that have been built and try to refresh where necessary.
He will hope to win over the fans with an improved performance in the Champions League - the only competition Conte fell short in. To do that, he may switch to a back four - a decision that would be risky, but ensure that this is a Juventus that has his stamp on it.
The timing of Conte’s departure has given Allegri an incredible opportunity he may not have otherwise got. His appointment is rightly questioned, but he has shown at Milan that when he has a settled squad at his disposal, he can win. Allegri will certainly find that at Juventus, while his ability to balance continuity with the right regeneration will determine whether he keeps the Old Lady at the top of Italian football.