SEVEN QUESTIONS and one panel consisting of 4 writers with 4 different views about Allegri. Part 1.
Manager Max Allegri is entering his third season with the club and after losing the first match of the season against Sampdoria, found himself back on the hot seat. We brought in a panel of writers to give their opinions on Allegri and his future with Milan.
They are Football Italia’s David Swan, Forza Italian Football’s Rajath Kumar and MilanObsession’s Elaine and Rossoneriblog’s Pete Acquaviva. The first four questions will be discussed in this portion, with a final three questions to be answered on Saturday.
Question: Have Allegri’s previous two seasons been a success?
David Swan: Of course. He’s won a Scudetto and then it needed a team to go unbeaten to stop him winning a second one. Even then he took Juve to the 37th giornata with an absurd injury crisis. How is that not a success? His tenure will be judged on trophies and he’s won one in the two seasons he’s been at the club. Anyone expecting greater things in the Champions League needs their head testing. You could have given José Mourinho the squad Allegri has had over the last two years and he wouldn’t have won the trophy either. They lost against the best team of this generation in 2012, and we’re unlucky against Tottenham in 2011.
Pete Acquaviva: The answer to this question depends on the terms that you use to define success. Allegri was successful domestically in his first season. He was very unsuccessful continentally. His team struggled in the group stages, and couldn’t put a single goal against a rather mediocre Tottenham side (who went on to be slaughtered by Madrid in the next round). They lacked penetration, ideas, and playmaking in front of goal, not even taking into consideration Robinho’s impossible miss (which we learned – he can do on demand). Sure it’s unreasonable to blame Allegri completely for his team’s inability to put one goal in. After all, they only allowed one shot on goal over two legs. In his second year, he did not adjust his tactics: in fact, he became more dependent on Ibrahimovic. Second place (albeit by a massive margin) wasn’t good enough for a squad with the highest payroll in Italy and the second highest Italian payroll of all time. Continentally they lost to Barcelona, which Max can’t be faulted for. He had most of his makeshift defense playing the games of their lives in the first leg, and should feel no shame in going out in the second leg. Could Max have done better? Yes, but it was always going to be difficult, and quarterfinals can be considered a reasonably successful continental season. But by and large, it seems more and more evident that Max Allegri is supposed to transition the squad. He’s seen the everybody from Ronaldinho to Pirlo to Seedorf out the door, and if you judge his success by his ability to transition the team, then he surely has done his job.
Elaine: A success? It depends on what part of his job you are looking at. While being accused of “ugly” football and being tactically paralyzed, he won the league the first year and would have won it this past year were it not for injuries. So on the pitch, yes, a success. But it is his people skills that were absolutely not successful. It is well known that he has argued with many players, and those are just the stories that leaked out. Then there were his media fails, which increased the acrimony between the clubs. Between the two, he lost the respect and discipline of his squad, actually lost a number of players, and certainly lost the respect of other clubs and their fans. He absolutely contributed to the exodus of players, including Pirlo and Ronaldinho before this season, and definitely contributed to the chaos this summer. So off the pitch, entirely unsuccessful. At what point does the latter impact the former? I believe it already has. And it’s just a matter of time before it completely undermines the success on the pitch.
Rajath Kumar: Yes, they have. Allegri was handed a rather mediocre side with a later surge of talent in the form of Ibrahimovic and Robinho, which catapulted Milan into title favorites two seasons back. However, he had to get the job done, and he did. Of course, one can state it was Milan’s title to lose, but Allegri did come through and win the title, while finishing second last season amidst injuries. In Europe, the team went as far as they could have with the quality in the squad and Allegri assured the team didn’t underperform.
Question: Do the management want Allegri to succeed?
David Swan: Ultimately they must do – I refuse to believe Galliani and Berlusconi would happily see the club go without success just to see their coach fail – but you do wonder sometimes. Galliani’s comments at the end of the transfer window, proclaiming after acquiring M’Baye Niang, Nigel de Jong and Bojan that the squad should challenge for the Scudetto and Allegri had no excuses, was silly and put Allegri in a situation where he will probably go at the end of the season if he doesn’t finish in to the top two. The only good player guaranteed to improve the squad is De Jong. He was a good signing. Niang is young and unproven and will probably be sixth choice striker. Bojan could be great if he adapts to Italian football, but if he doesn’t then he isn’t going to improve the squad much, if at all. It’s a decent squad that should finish in the top three, and if injuries are minimal then it can push Juventus and Inter all the way. But we know the injury record will be terrible, and it’s a quality midfielder light.
Pete Acquaviva: The management has been sending mixed messages with regard to Allegri for several seasons now. After his Scudetto winning campaign, he received almost no reinforcement in the transfer window, bringing in Alberto Aquilani and Antonio Nocerino. He was told to win again. Milan seemed to believe that Allegri was going to repeat, as they extended his contract in the days leading up to the Derby. From that game on, the season began to take a different feel, and it led to an anticlimactic collapse in the closing weeks. Max saw no backlash for finishing second. However, this summer, following last year’s disappointment both continentally and domestically, Allegri saw his best two players sold from out under him. He drudged along through preseason, attempting to re-define his tactics. 3rd place was said to be his goal, however, when Galliani delivered “Barca Jr.” Bojan and Nigel De Jong the expectations changed. Ignoring the fact that it was the defense that needed further development, Galliani delivered two strikers, and the expectation is the Scudetto again. Is this a prelude to firing Allegri if he doesn’t meet expectations? Or is that just another motivation tactic to get the best out of Max. I suspect it’s a little of both, and if the results continue to go south for him, it may spell the end of his time at Milan.
Elaine: With rumors of them seeking out Pep Guardiola in May, Galliani publicly criticizing him after the Real Madrid friendly, and the selling of Thiago and Ibra, it seems easy to believe that they are trying to undermine him. And the way he quietly fights them for everything he wants, one might think they are tired of him. But I believe that they definitely do want him to succeed, they have just been too caught up in their own crises to offer the appropriate public support. It would be ridiculous of them to undermine him rather than just sack him, as it affects their income and success. So no, I don’t believe they are setting him up to fail.
Rajath Kumar: It’s hard to say anything about the management’s ambitions, as they seem rather oblivious to reality. They continue to over-estimate the squad’s capabilities but seem to have walked along with what Allegri has provided them. The odd comment aside, the management seems rather content with what Allegri has done and seem to offer him the players he wants in the side, ala Muntari, Nocerino and Bojan. I get the feeling that they want him to continue being at the helm of affairs, until things go horribly wrong during his term. They also entertained his haggling for an improved contract.
Question: Will Allegri’s proposed 4-3-3 or 3-man defense be utilized this season? Does a change in formation matter since he intends on keeping the same tactics in the midfield area?
David Swan: Any change that introduces width will make a difference, particularly in Europe where their lack of it hurts them more. The rebirth of 3-5-2 in Italy has forced his hand a bit – before Milan could get away with playing narrow because everyone else did the same. But now more than half the teams have got around the lack of natural wingers in Italy by playing wing-backs instead, which means more teams are poor match-ups for Milan, where they rely only on having superior players to win games. 3-5-2 works a bit better for the current squad but I’m not a fan of it at the top level. I think Juve’s success last year is an exception, and even then they used 4-3-3 for half the season. 4-3-3 is better, although the squad needs more alterations for this to work properly. As such I reckon this will be used as an alternative this season.
Pete Acquaviva: Allegri’s 4-3-1-2 has been the default for two years at Milan and before that with Cagliari (although Allegri did make minute changes to shift it to a 4-3-3 often), however, this year as he said, “With the players I have now, I have the chance to make various changes in the games that we’ll be in”. This is in contrast to previous years in which there has not been adequate players who can fill wide/ holding roles. He even went so far as to suggest a back three be instituted (which hasn’t been seen since Zaccheroni), which would be an interesting experiment to see Milan try. Sure it would have been nice to try that in preseason a bit, but if we’re honest the last holder and winger didn’t come until the end of the window. The tactics will remain the same, as Allegri has even suggest Bojan can play the center forward because the midfielders will still be driving forward. Perhaps Bojan can be the “false 9″ that Boateng isn’t.
Elaine: This is a tough one only because we haven’t seen how everyone plays together yet. While Allegri has been as tactically constipated as any coach I know, he has been willing to try the 4-3-3 in training and in friendlies. While he’s said that we have the players to play a 3-man backline, I don’t see where we have the depth at the formation, so I hope it’s just a PR decoy. He typically only changes formation when it is necessary due to injuries. I absolutely do think the change in formation matters, and with this squad, I think it would confuse more than improve their play. At this point, it feels more like he is trying to fit others’ perception of who he should be instead of sticking to what he knows. His press conferences are increasingly frustrating of late as he changes his mind on tactics from week to week, and sometimes makes no tactical sense at all when speaking.
Rajath Kumar: It’s unlikely to be used, primarily due to Allegri’s fascination/obsession with his 4-3-1-2. His previous attempt to experiment with a 4-3-3 against Arsenal in the Champions League backfired on him, nearly leaving him red in the face. Allegri doesn’t have an appetite for risk and will stick with this formation, unless results force his hand. A change in formation will widen the play. His system needs a gritty midfield, and so I don’t have any complaints about how the midfield operates. The style needs to utilize the width though.
To what extent do you believe Allegri is responsible for the injury crisis in Milan? Some have suggested his training is too rigorous. Do you believe this to be a valid concern?
David Swan: This theory is such a load of nonsense. It’s one of those topics the people who dislike Allegri use to try and build a case against him, and it’s rubbish. The reason it’s rubbish is because those same individuals conveniently ignore that this has been happening for four years now. Carlo Ancelotti had the same problem in his last season. Do we all remember Philippe Senderos arriving on loan? That was due to Ancelotti having no defenders – they were all injured apart from Paolo Maldini and Giuseppe Favalli. I’m sure we can all remember Favalli getting absolutely violated against Roma playing at centre-back. Mathieu Flamini at full-back? Yeh, that was in that season too because of injuries. Then there was the strikers. We hit November and only had Pato. Inzaghi was injured, Borriello was injured until April with a muscle injury, then a cyst – they didn’t have a clue what was wrong with him. Leonardo lost lots of midfielders the following season. Pirlo and Ambrosini got injured, then Beckham. Pato picked up at least two hamstring injuries that year as well. Allegri’s training might well be at the high end in terms of intensity – none of us know for sure – but I don’t believe it’s causing injuries. When you change one variable (I.E. the coach) but still produce the same outcome (lots of injuries), it’s fairly clear that the variable you have changed is not responsible. Simple logic.
Pete Acquaviva: The claim that Allegri’s training is rigorous is not a new one, however it was most recently echoed by new signing M’Baye Niang, “Currently, it’s the intensity during the training sessions that is the hardest for me..they work on short and long sprints and they train with a lot of intensity”. That being said, it seems that just as many injuries occur elsewhere (Muntari, Boa-Satta) as they do on the pitch (Pato, Pato, and Pato) or in training (El Shaarawy last July/August, Thiago Silva’s initial injury). It’s certainly not only the training that is causing these injuries, although there can be little doubt that the rigorousness of the training as well as the general philosophy of the team contribute towards the injury tally. Most at fault, is the MilanLab, which has become more of a joke around the club than Mesbah’s refusal to leave the club in the transfer window. Allegri is not the first coach to deal with injury woes. Ancelotti bemoaned his team’s injury proneness. Leonardo struggled with the MilanLab as well. It is no surprise that Allegri is having difficulties, however to say that he is the root of the cause is as shortsighted as it is incorrect. It would be unfair to blame Allegri for the woes of the MilanLab, but it does seem that he’s not doing himself any favors either.
Elaine: I am glad that the club evaluated this carefully this summer and made some changes. It is possible that his training techniques had an impact, but I think it had more to do with his substitutions, or actually lack thereof. With a healthy squad, he would play the same 11 for 90 minutes every match if he could. And that is a big cause of injuries. He has also habitually only used youth when there wasn’t anyone else, rather than start subbing on at the 60 min. mark when the team was up and let some of the young players get 20-30 min. of experience. I do believe that his lack of substitutions has been a very large contributing factor in the injury crisis, and that his lack of faith in youth has contributed to the mass exodus this summer, leaving so many holes in the squad to be filled all at once.
Rajath Kumar: His training methods are hearsay, but surely there is a problem for which he is partly, if not wholly responsible. The number of injuries under Allegri has surely gone up over the last two seasons. He fails to rotate the squad, keeping the same 11. For a team playing three competitions a year, that is very demanding to say the least. Also, being condemned for his training methods, Allegri should shoulder some of the blame for the injury crisis at the club. Some of his in game substitutions, such as starting Silva against Roma last season, or rushing Pato back from injury are classic cases of being naïve.
The final 3 questions will be answered on Saturday.