Patience is not a virtue when it comes to European soccer.
As the top teams in Europe wrapped up their regular seasons the last few weeks, rumors of coaching changes are rampant. Consider:
- We heard speculation about a possible coaching change at Chelsea, where Maurizio Sarri’s future appears unclear.
- Many also wonder if Barcelona’s Ernesto Valverde will survive his team’s second Champions League meltdown in as many years, especially if the Catalans lose to Valencia in Saturday’s Copa del Rey final.
- There have even been questions about Bayern Munich boss Niko Kovac despite his team winning the German league again. His critics seem to think the club’s seventh straight league title was just a result of a late-season meltdown by Borussia Dortmund. (Here’s where I should acknowledge that every fanbase contains segments that make noise that should be ignored, but I digress…)
Among European powers, Juventus appeared as unlikely to make a coaching change as anyone. Yes, the addition of Cristiano Ronaldo last summer made it Champions League or bust for Massimiliano Allegri and Co.
Despite that, it didn’t feel like the loss to Ajax in the UCL quarters was the type of outcome that would spark significant personnel changes. Yet there we were last Friday, reading a statement saying Allegri and the club were going their separate ways, despite one year remaining on his contract.
In five years with the Italians, Allegri led the team to five Serie A titles and no shortage of Champions League success. Juve finished as the UCL runner-up in both ’15 and ’17.
So why make a change now?
I could rattle off a long list of Allegri accomplishments with Juventus. But simply put, Allegri won just about everything possible domestically since the ’14-15 season. After five very successful years, I can only think of two reasons why this relationship is ending.
- The Dreaded Plateau. The first possibility is that both parties believe they’ve plateaued. This seems somewhat plausible, but I doubt a team that has come this close to winning the Champions League believes European glory is out of reach under the current setup. The age of Juve’s best players, though, does make you wonder how bright the immediate future is. Ronaldo is 34, Mario Mandzukic is 33, Blaise Matuidi is 32, Giorgio Chiellini is 34 and Leonardo Bonucci is 32. Maybe Allegri reached the conclusion that there was nothing more he could do with this roster. There were enough young contributors on this team, though, that I struggle to buy that it was entirely a matter of feeling like this roster’s best days are behind it.
- Not a matter of “if,” a matter of “what.” The matter of what changes to make to finally bring home a UCL trophy — and disagreement between Allegri and Juve execs over how to do so — strikes me as the more likely reason for the split.
At what point do Mandzukic, Chiellini, Bonucci, etc. – the team’s veteran leaders — take on smaller roles to make way for fresher legs? How do you build an attack around this vintage of Ronaldo, who remains arguably the best in the world at finishing, but is far less versatile than he used to be? On a related note, can Paulo Dybala ever blossom into the star he’s shown flashes of being while playing alongside CR7? The Argentine’s production fell off a cliff in his first year with Ronaldo — from 22 goals and five assists in Serie A last year to five goals and four assists this year.
Those are just a few of the questions whose answers are unclear. If Allegri and club execs differ on the way forward, going their separate ways makes plenty of sense.
Perhaps the true reason for his exit will emerge later this summer or further down the road, but those currently seem like the best possible explanations for this puzzling move.
Who takes over?
The Juventus job is the most prominent one available right now, and how it is filled is sure to spark a carousel effect. Everyone from Pep Guardiola (that can’t possibly be a legitimate possibility, can it??) to Sarri has already been mentioned.
Someone like Antonio Conte, who played for Old Lady for more than a decade and coached the club from ’11-14, would seem like a decent bet. That obviously only happens if the speculation he’s set to take over at Inter Milan proves false.
Lazio’s Simone Inzaghi has also been mentioned, and would make sense — if for no other reason than the fact that this club has been managed exclusively by Italians, with Didier Deschamps from ’06-07 one of the few exceptions — since the ‘70s.
One closing thought: instead of joining the rest of the internet in coming up with a list of 10 or 20 possible Allegri replacements, let’s get back to Juve’s thought process here. They must have had a replacement in mind – and one they felt confident they could sign – before ending things with Allegri, right? This team has been too good, and stable, for too long, for it to say goodbye to a proven commodity without a defined succession plan. With that in mind, expect a new Juve coach to be introduced some time this month. If not, an already head-scratching move will quickly make even less sense than it currently does.