UCL final: How Juventus boss, Allegri, has defied the odds

UCL final: How Juventus boss, Allegri, has defied the odds
June 03 18:42 2017

Juventus may be giants of Italian football, but Max Allegri’s rise was against the odds. Sky Sports takes an in-depth look at the Juve boss ahead of the Champions League final.

Upon arriving at Juventus’ Vinovo training ground in July 2014, Max Allegri’s car was kicked, spat at and splattered with eggs.

The appointment of a former AC Milan manager did not please the vociferous support, as three-time title-winner Antonio Conte left to take up the Italy job after the World Cup in Brazil.

He wasn’t even first choice, and when Conte theatrically walked out, frontrunner Sinisa Mihajlovic had already signed a new contract at Sampdoria. Juve were left with the after-thought, and those unwanted Rossoneri connections.

Three years later, the 49-year-old is on the verge of completing an historic feat in becoming only the 10th European side to win the holy trinity of domestic league, cup and European Cup.

Real Madrid stand in their way in Cardiff on Saturday, just as Barcelona did in 2015, but in the two years since that 3-1 defeat in Berlin, Juventus have strengthened their identity and added more bite.

Defensive solidity was still their hallmark when Conte left in 2014. Against Luis Enrique’s Barcelona two years ago, the talk before the game was that Juve’s only chance was to keep the game at 0-0 before stealing it late.

Juventus players look dejected after their defeat in the 2015 Champions League final

Now it’s a different story. Juventus can hurt Real, who will always open up at least once over 90 minutes, and that’s a testament to Allegri’s approach after that most unwelcome of welcomes.

They showed it in Turin in the quarter-final, racing into a three-goal lead against Barcelona and striking fear among those who write off Juve based on perceptions of Serie A and its quality.

The side now have balance, helped by the emergence of Paulo Dybala, the goalscoring instinct of Gonzalo Higuain and the transformation of Mario Mandzukic from goalscorer into winger, giving full-backs nightmares.

The defence is still watertight, conceding just 27 in Serie A and three in 12 Champions League games, commanded by Juve’s own BBC – Leonardo Bonucci, Andrea Barzagli and Georgio Chiellini – plus full-backs Alex Sandro and Stephan Lichtsteiner, backed up by Dani Alves.

Juventus celebrate victory over Barcelona in the quarter-final

“It felt like we could have played for a whole day and not conceded,” said Allegri after two clean sheets against Barcelona in the last eight, but his side are more than just a concrete defence.

You’d be forgiven for assuming Paul Pogba’s departure would upset the midfield, with the £89m fee and more spent on bringing in Higuain from Napoli and Miralem Pjanic from Roma.

Juventus haven’t just got by without Pogba, they have flourished. Pjanic has been superb alongside Sami Khedira, a former Real Madrid man.

But it hasn’t been a gradual upward rise for Allegri at Juve. In October 2015, with the Old Lady sitting 11th following an embarrassing defeat by Sassuolo, the manager listened to the dressing room calls to switch back to 3-5-2, and though he was accused of falling out with his players at AC Milan, reason trumped stubbornness on this occasion.

Conte’s AC Milan connections caused anger among Juventus fans

Chelsea fans reading this may get déjà vu. The switch to a three-man central defence saw Juventus win 25 out of the next 26, on their way to a fifth straight Serie A crown.

But there was another tactical change in January, when, following a 2-1 defeat at Fiorentina, he dumped the 3-5-2 that had also been Conte’s baby, moving to a 4-2-3-1 and winning the next nine games, before going back to a three-man defence for the Monaco semi-final.

In just three years in Turin, Allegri has displayed tactical versatility, expertise in the transfer market and defiance against media and supporter criticism, all via six trophies.

But will he fancy his chances elsewhere in the near future? He was tenuously linked with Arsenal and Chelsea this season, but leaving Juve now doesn’t seem the right time.

Pep Guardiola’s first year at Man City was a difficult one

“As I’ve repeated 1500 billion times: I have a contract until 2018, the club can call me or not call me,” he recently said. “After that we’ll see. I want to stay, then we have to talk. We’ll see.

“Will the Champions League final affect my decision? Absolutely not. I’ve already taken my decision so we’ll meet when the club deems it appropriate.”

As Pep Guardiola has shown, even the most glittering of managerial careers abroad does not equal instant success in the Premier League. If anything, Guardiola’s first season at Manchester City may have made England a more desirable destination for foreign managers fancying a challenge among a competitive top six.

“In five years I have a fairly clear idea of where I’ll be, but I won’t say it now because it would cause a pandemonium.

“So I’ll tell you later, but I think in five years my path will be completely different to what it is now.”

As Allegri says, that’s talk for another day. For now, he knows the difference between good and great rests on success in the Champions League. Juventus have lost a record six European Cup finals, and Allegri will be desperate to avoid the nearly-man tag on the biggest stage.

[Sky Sports]