Juventus: What Happened to Milan Under Allegri and Why it Must Not Happen in Turin

Since Antonio Conte’s departure from Juventus, the club has made an equally shocking move by hiring Massimiliano Allegri – one of the architects of AC Milan’s descent from continental power to borderline mid-table Serie A team.

Allegri inherited a talented Milan squad, one that finished third in Serie A. he took that talent and infused it with a wealth of attacking options. In came the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Kevin-Prince Boateng, Robinho and Antonio Cassano. All four players helped the coach claim the Scudetto in his first season on the job. After that, however, it was a steady diet of decline for the Milan club. The following year they slipped to second, after that third and after that an uncharacteristic eighth.

Some of this had to do with personnel. For one reason or another, players left Milan at a somewhat alarming rate over the course of Allegri’s tenure. Now to be fair, player movement is anything but uncommon, but at a winning club, you would think it wouldn’t be as pronounced as in a weaker team.

One of the coach’s most common lineups in his Scudetto winning tenure featured Christian Abbiati in goal with a four man defense of Ignazio Abate, Alessandro Nesta, Thiago Silva and Luca Antonini protecting him. Sitting in front of them was the midfield diamond of Mark van Bommel, Clarence Seedorf, Gennaro Gattuso and Boateng supporting Robinho and Ibrahimovic in attack.

Allegri showed a strange resolve not to use Pirlo as much as he could. I don’t care who you have on your team, if you are a manager, you should start Pirlo. If it’s a three-man midfield and the likes of Pirlo, Xavi, Xabi Alonso and Bastian Schweinsteiger are at your disposal, you should sit one of them in favor of the bearded wonder.

This is what Allegri did, preferring to use Gattuso, Seedorf, van Bommel (upon his arrival) instead of Pirlo. To be fair, Milan did have an embarrassment of riches in central midfield with the aforementioned trio, Pirlo and club legend Massimo Ambrosini. All five were some of the finer midfield players of their generation, but there is absolutely no way you leave arguably the best passer of the last 15 years on the bench.

Ok, if he doesn’t start, at least give him a “super-sub” role. That sounds like the smart thing to do in the situation. Is that what Allegri did? Eh, not really. The coach handed Mathieu Flamini more appearances in terms of players who weren’t established starters.

It’s a little more acceptable to sit Pirlo behind legends like Seedorf and Gattuso as opposed to Flamini. Don’t get me wrong, Flamini is a fine player who has enjoyed an extremely successful career, but Pirlo should be playing ahead of him 98 times out of 100.

This led to Pirlo ultimately leaving and signing with Juventus, where he has since gone on to beat Milan to three straight Scudettos.

Pirlo wasn’t the only face to leave the northern club throughout Allegri’s tenure. Of his starting XI that claimed the title in his first season – Abbiati, Abate, Nesta, Silva, Antonini, Gattuso, van Bommel, Seedorf, Boateng, Ibrahimovic and Robinho – only Abbiati, Abate, Antonini, Boateng and Robinho remained on the team two years later. Four years later and the list shrinks to Abbiati, Abate and Robinho with only the former as a starter on a weekly basis.

Ok, so maybe some of the players like Nesta and Gattuso were close to retirement and it isn’t that surprising that they left, but players still left in hoards. Of the 23 players to make ten or more appearances across all competitions in the championship winning season, only four remain with the team. Of those 23, 18 of them were gone by the beginning of last season.

The lack of stars like of Pirlo, Ibrahimovic and Silva, left a massive void in the Milan team. They were never quite able to recover after the latter two left. These weren’t the only names to leave northern Italy during Allegri’s spell. Slipping through the cracks was then young and up-and-coming players like Matteo Darmian and current Dortmund pair Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Sokratis Papastathopoulos.

Despite the departures, some Allegri did make a few smart signings as replacements. Riccardo Montolivo was a fantastic free transfer acquisition, as was getting Philippe Mexes for free. Milan also bought Stephan El Shaarawy outright and signed Mario Balotelli. Antonio Nocerino was a superb signing upon arrival, but struggled following the departure of Ibrahimovic and company. He has since been farmed out to West Ham and Torino on loan.

Under Allegri, Milan went from spending on top-level talent like Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Kevin-Prince Boateng to splurging a significant amount of money on misfiring striker Alessandro Matri (a player Juve fans know well) when the team already had Balotelli, Robinho, Giampaolo Pazzini and El Shaarawy under contract and glaring holes elsewhere on the roster.

Is all this going to happen at Juventus? No. Could it? Yes. Allegri won’t make the same blunder with Pirlo that he made the first time. He, along with anyone who’s familiar with football who has seen Juve play, knows that Juve runs through the bearded maestro. Running through Pirlo has netted the Bianconeri three straight titles. I get the feeling Allegri’s not going to mess with that. Juve must win to maintain everything, namely their roster. Allegri must be successful; otherwise players could leave in hoards. You would think if the team truly struggled after a long period of time, a team with Juve’s ambitions would cut the chord with Allegri rather than experience a prolonged nightmare like Milan. This is a proven winner, Allegri shouldn’t be make any bizarre personnel decisions like he did at Milan in fear of upsetting the proven formula. Allegri is in a completely different situation then Milan. He must produce results, and judging by what he’s already said, he has the right mind-set. Either way, the gradual nose dive that occurred at Milan won’t happen at Juventus.

Six Things We Learned from Italy After the Netherlands Friendly

(Disclaimer: I don’t profess to know a ton about football. I just love the beautiful game.)

  1. Andrea Pirlo’s genius, pace and the fouls/free kicks he draws. Some people play on a whole other physical level, or a whole other level in terms of speed. The latter is Pirlo. (Also, isn’t it nice that in football/soccer, wherever you’re from, a players is simplified to just one name? Even if he hasn’t shortened his name to one name. Messi is called Messi when his full name is Lionel Messi, etc. Anyways, it lends itself to lazy typers like me, and the rest of the world for that matter.) Pirlo plays the game almost methodically. You know when basketball gurus say that the game has “slowed down” for some players? That’s Pirlo. He slows it down. While the tempo killing can sometimes be hard to watch, the Italian midfield maestro always makes the right pass, even if he has to slow down to do it. Expanding on that, especially in the match against the Dutch, everyone else was going 110 miles an hour (if you will) while Pirlo was cruising at a comfortable 85. The result of this is that a lot of hand checks and fouls that might go un-noticed were noticed as Pirlo drew multiple free kicks by simply playing at the speed he feels comfortable playing. I should also point out his genius. Which he is, by the way. Every game there are about three to four plays where he makes a pass that could open up the defense. If your defense gives Pirlo milk and curds he turns it into Swiss cheese. (Especially if he’s playing against the Swiss.)
  2. Buffon does it again. Where Pirlo makes three or four passes that unlock the defense, Gigi Buffon makes three or four saves that the average Joe keeper wouldn’t make every game. He did this again on multiple occasions against the Dutchmen.
  3. Sub Par? Not to say that the starters were lacking, but the substitutions of Pablo Osvaldo, Alessandro Diamanti, Alberto Gilardino and Marco Verratti certainly changed the game in a positive way.
  4. Slick Whats? The field was very slick in case you didn’t notice. At least half a dozen players hit the turf, one of which quelled a promising Italian attack.
  5. Friendly Strategy. (That faux headline didn’t work, but stick with me.)  Cesare Prandelli certainly isn’t using friendlies to get results. The Italy head-man consistently uses friendly games to test younger players and tinker with different pairings and lineups ahead of major tournaments. He’s using this strategy for the upcoming Confederations Cup as well as the Azzurri’s likely World Cup spot in Brazil in 2014.
  6. It’ll Work. Eventually. Italy’s spearheaded attack of Mario Balotelli and Stephan El Shaaraway seemed to be a bit stagnant in the first half. While the Osvaldo/Diamanti/Gilardino trident worked, the former group will likely be the long and short-term options up front. They’ll figure it out eventually, playing together that is. After all they both play for AC Milan. They’ll be tested and ready by Brazil.

If I missed anything from the game that you thought was mention-worthy, tell me in the comments section.