Allegri’s honesty about Juventus’ prospects will only hurt him in the long run

Max Allegri is his own man — you’ve got to give him that. And yet, he may be paying a price for it. After Monday night’s unimpressive scoreless draw with Sampdoria, the Juventus coach got right to the point in his own somewhat counterintuitive way.

“We’ve started better than last season [when they had one point from the opening two games, as opposed to this season’s four] and we’ve kept two clean sheets [true, though the opposition xG over those two matches was 1.98],” he said, as if speaking solely to the all-about-results brigade.

So far, so Max. Where he went off-script was when asked about the club’s many absentees (Paul Pogba, Angel Di Maria, Federico Chiesa and Leo Bonucci are all injured, among others) and whether some of Juve’s gifted youngsters (19-year-old Fabio Miretti, 20-year-old Nicolo Rovella or even 22-year-old Moise Kean) could pick up the slack.

Visibly annoyed, he pointed out errors that Miretti and Kean made during Monday’s match, possibly due to inexperience, and then went on about how football has “tiers” and that footballers all belong to different “tiers” as if they were levels of membership in your frequent flyer program. Translated from “Allegri-speak,” the conclusion was that Pogba, Di Maria, Chiesa, Bonucci and others are top players while these other guys are not … at least for now. And as Captain Obvious reminds us, it’s easier to win with your platinum level guys than your bronze level guys.

It’s not the first time Allegri has said things along these lines. He has stated that tactics don’t mean much because players win games and a coach’s main job is simply putting the right guys in the right positions and letting them do their thing. He also made a famous NBA analogy about how when you’re chasing a win at the end of games, football works no different than basketball: Give the ball to your best player and get out of the way.

It’s tough sometimes to tell to what degree he believes these things and to what degree he’s playing a character. If it’s the latter, you get the impression it’s not doing him any favors.

After leaving Juventus in 2019, he spent two years on the market hoping to land a job at a big club outside Italy since, having won with both Milan and Juve, the only way up was outside Serie A. Yet despite talks with virtually every big club who changed managers between 2019 and 2021, he stayed put, which is kind of surprising when you consider that this is a guy who won six Serie A titles and twice reached the Champions League final.

I suspect it has to do with the fact that he doesn’t quite fit the mold of what big clubs want or, at least, what they think they want. He’s not Mr. Intensity or an uber-motivator like, say, a Jose Mourinho or an Antonio Conte. He doesn’t project himself as some kind of tactical savant, like Pep Guardiola or Julian Nagelsmann. The closest comp you get, perhaps, is Carlo Ancelotti, the pragmatic man-manager type, except Allegri isn’t a jolly polyglot and hasn’t won four Champions League titles. It’s also hard to imagine Ancelotti speaking postgame the way Allegri often does, putting his players into tiers — I’ll bet Miretti and Kean felt great about that — or making it all about the guys who were not available.

Allegri’s personality won’t change at this stage of his life. Nor should it, necessarily; he can point to his track record as evidence that it hasn’t stood in the way of success. And besides, there are some who love his folksy, unpretentious, “do not overcomplicate the game” and “beware of coaches who use words like footballing philosophy” schtick. But this is a season in which he really needs to deliver.

Juventus finished fourth last year in his first season back. They had four significant departures in the summer — Alvaro Morata, Matthijs De Ligt, Paulo Dybala and Giorgio Chiellini — but they added big free agents like Di Maria and Pogba, as well as Filip Kostic and Gleison Bremer, and they’ll likely add another forward before the window closes (possibly Memphis Depay possibly or, more likely, Arkadiusz Milik from Marseille). It’s been a “budget” transfer campaign partly because of hefty losses in previous years (most, not all, pandemic-related), and largely because they made their big splash back in January, when they added Denis Zakaria and Dusan Vlahovic.

On paper, pound-for-pound, they may be a notch behind the Milan clubs in terms of overall talent. But when you factor in the buzz and excitement surrounding Napoli and Roma, a top-four finish and a decent Champions League showing — the minimum requisites in terms of results, since that’s how Allegri likes to be judged — are not to be taken for granted. And the injuries to Pogba and Chiesa don’t help matters much.

If a different type of coach fell short, they could point to other factors to keep their job: performances, tactical growth, youngsters getting better and better. With Allegri, however, that’s tough to do. After all, when you argue that tactical vision and philosophy are just pretentious bunk, and you imply that superstars are born and not made, or that youngsters need to move up the “tiers” before they can be trusted, the only thing that will save you is results.

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