Prickly and tactically inept or honest and underrated? With his job on the line against Lazio, Scott Fleming tries to discern which is the real Massimiliano Allegri.
Massimiliano Allegri enjoyed the high point of his reign as Milan boss at the Stadio Olimpico. It was there 18 months ago that he was launched into the air by his players, champagne dripping from his hair, after a 0-0 draw with Roma that guaranteed the club their 18th Scudetto.
Sadly for the 45-year-old, there's a chance that he will experience the low point at the Stadio Olimpico also, when the Rossoneri take on Lazio this Saturday night. “The game in Rome will not be, in any case, the last stop for Allegri, no matter what happens,” Vice-President Adriano Galliani insisted yesterday. But Galliani has gone back on his word before. Just ask Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Milan are 11th in Serie A, having scavenged just seven points from their first seven fixtures. Already, with less than a fifth of the season played, they have lost four League games, the same amount of defeats they accrued in the entirety of the 2010-11 championship winning campaign.
Allegri has seemed to be on the brink of the sack so many times this season that if and when it does happen, no post-mortem will be required. The analysis has already been carried out, arguments weighed, obituaries written.
His defenders say that he deserves respect for winning the Scudetto, then finishing a close second to an unbeaten Juventus, that he's been dealt a lousy hand by the club, that asking your Coach to go and win the League after selling off superstars like Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva and replacing them with Francesco Acerbi and Bojan Krkic is grossly unfair. And they're right.
His critics say that his interpersonal skills are poor, his tactics occasionally baffling, that even allowing for the summer’s talent drain Milan should not be losing at home to Sampdoria and Atalanta and sandwiched in between Torino and Bologna in the standings. And they're right too.
A large part of the problem for Allegri is the somewhat prickly demeanour which means many within the Press, and even some within the club – cough, Pippo Inzaghi – would be glad to see him go. It is telling how few of the 'Senators' that left at the end of last season have had a good word to say about him.
Then again the Livorno native could legitimately counter that he wasn't hired for his sparkling charm. “Some probably find me unfriendly because I tell people things directly to their face,” he said last month. “That's the type of relationship I want to have.”
Perhaps the fairest means of judging him is by looking at his own stated aim – a place in the top three. Within that context Saturday's game begins to look even more significant.
Fired up, on form, and with a Coach basking in the sort of good PR Allegri can only dream of, Lazio are precisely where Max wants Milan to be: third, eight points ahead of the Diavolo.
It would be an exaggeration to say defeat at the Olimpico will kill their ambitions stone dead, but with an 11-point deficit to make up, it would certainly leave Milan’s hopes of Champions League qualification, and Allegri's hopes of keeping his job, looking very slim indeed.