Forced to give a straight answer, many Calcio fans would admit that they still don’t have a very positive opinion of Max Allegri.
Lurking in the back of their minds, Maxskepticism has many thinking that the former Rossoneri Coach is one mistake away from reverting to the blundering mess Silvio Berlusconi used to rail against, the Cavaliere once claiming at a political rally that Allegri “didn’t understand [expletive] all” about football.
Yet he had won the Scudetto at his first attempt, a 0-0 draw away to Roma proving enough to secure the Serie A title early. It’s a pattern he could repeat at the Stadio Olimpico this Sunday.
Yet most fans would have agreed with Berlusconi back then, the Juventus faithful booing Allegri’s arrival at Vinovo when he was hired in July 2014, the rest of the Calcio community suppressing laughter and bewilderment.
Three years later, Serie A is as Black and White as ever and the rest of the continent is learning to treat the Old Lady as a serious contender - Allegri helping his men sweep Porto, Barcelona and Monaco aside on their way to a second Champions League Final in three years.
Milan, for their part, have cycled through four Coaches and remained firmly out of Europe, Berlusconi leaking character assassinations to his compliant Press whenever the mood takes him.
Though it would be normal to ask to what extent Allegri has improved since his time at Milan, the truth is that the Tuscan was pretty good to begin with, and that Coaches are commodities in this league to be sacked, replaced and re-hired at a whim, often within a few weeks. In a league dominated by volcanic Presidents and chaotic clubs, plenty of promising minds simply never get a chance to fully express their potential.
Though many have argued that Allegri took over an Antonio Conte team in an almost subservient division, it is just as clear that, three years on, it’s very much an Allegri team, and it’s as dominant as Conte’s ever was.
Gone are the Pirlos, the Tevezes, the Vidals and the Pogbas. The BBC is older and more injury-prone, the full-backs (barring Alex Sandro) ageing, the forward lines chock-a-block with new faces needing integration.
Yet Allegri has still built a war machine, patiently coaxing young guns like Paulo Dybala into becoming stars and helping Gonzalo Higuain adapt to a system very different from Napoli’s. His inventiveness was evident in Milan, where he turned Robinho into the disciplined, hard-running winger Mario Mandzukic has recently morphed into.
The Livorno native has even turned the tables on the tactical critics. Though he used to drive Milan fans to distraction with his oddball line-ups, it has since emerged that experimenting with the unpopular four-man defence would come in very handy indeed, the Bianconeri reaching two European Finals while Conte’s 3-5-2 blundered in the mud.
Accused of not getting on with his players at San Siro, Max had the humility to listen to the BBC after a dispiriting loss to Sassuolo in October 2015, one that left the Bianconeri stranded in 11th place in the table. Complying with the dressing room’s request for a return to 3-5-2, Allegri led his men to 25 wins out of 26, and a fifth straight Scudetto.
It’s one thing to handle a squad full of Constants and Antoninis, another to keep Miralem Pjanic, Medhi Benatia, Juan Cuadrado, Dani Alves, Sami Khedira and Mandzukic all happy, especially when most of these big names have seen extended bench time. Making an example out of Leonardo Bonucci by leaving him out against Porto looks increasingly like a great decision, though it was pilloried by many when it was initially made.
Having achieved so much on the sporting plane, it is increasingly evident that Allegri’s real weakness has nothing to do with football, but with perception. Not yet fully rehabilitated in our short, selective and narrative-obsessed minds, only a win in Cardiff will be enough to wipe Max’s slate clean, and give him the respect he’s always deserved.