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Daniel Levy’s Imaginary (Managerial) Shortlist: Massimiliano Allegri

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Allegri absolutely dominated Italy while at Juventus. So why isn’t he already employed?

FRANCE-FBL-ITA-CULTURE Photo by LUCAS BARIOULET/AFP via Getty Images

To: daniel.levy@tottenhamhotspur.com
From: cartilagefree@gmail.com

Subject: Let us help you! (Manager search)

Hi, Daniel! We haven’t heard back from you yet — did you get our emails? I hope so. If not, we’d like to again offer our services to you as you continue to think about your open managerial position at Tottenham Hotspur.

In looking through the candidates that may or may not be available, there was one name that kept jumping out as someone with an impressive history of past accomplishments who, for whatever reason, has not been employed for a couple of years. If money is tight, it seems like it might be worth at least looking over the resume of this person. That manager? Massimiliano (Max) Allegri.

With all due COYS,

Dustin George-Miller
Cartilage Free Captain

The Basics

Name: Massimiliano Allegri
Age: 53
Team: Unemployed, late of Juventus
Nationality: Italian
Cumulative ELO rating: 1797

The Specifics

Trophies:

  • Serie A/Scudetto (6): 2011 (AC MIlan); 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 (Juventus)
  • Supercoppa Italia (3): 2011 (AC Milan); 2015, 2018 (Juventus)
  • Coppa Italia (4): 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 (Juventus)

Few Italian managers have won anywhere near as many trophies as Max Allegri, The replacement for Antonio Conte at the Old Lady in 2014, Allegri went on to become the first manager in European history to win four consecutive doubles, winning the Scudetto and Coppa Italia between 2015-2019. Juventus were utterly dominant in Serie A during that time, and much of that was not only due to the setup that Conte established, but also the tactics and performance that Allegri continued.

Allegri resigned as Juventus manager in 2019, seemingly at the end of a cycle and with Juventus needing a shake-up. The split was amicable, and he left the club as one of the most successful managers in its history. He remains unemployed.

An incredibly successful European manager with a record of tactical versatility and unorthodox methods? What’s not to like, right? So why has he gone two years without a job? We’ll get to that.

Tactics

Allegri didn’t exactly come into Juventus with the cupboard bare. Conte had won the previous three scudetti at the Old Lady, and Allegri was meant to continue that progress. He most emphatically did. While early in his tenure at the club he mostly kept to Conte’s 3-5-2 formation, over time he shifted to a back four, some form of a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 despite having three of the most dominant CBs in Italian football at the club.

Juventus relied on a midfield pivot of central midfielders with an emphasis on quick passing and forward runs, with a ball-winning CDM (Miralem Pjanic being the archetype) sitting deeper to act as a fulcrum. Allegri sides tended to build from the back, invite the press from opposition forwards, and break it quickly through short passing. There was generally at least one fullback that was given license to move forward to create overlaps with a wide midfielder to create overloads and unbalance the defense. Allegri’s strikers (Higuain in particular) liked to drop deep to create space and play in inverted wingers, and doesn’t that sound a lot like Harry Kane?

Defensively, there was very little press from the back line, but Allegri’s #10s tended to press immediately upon losing the ball, giving the CMs the time to reset into a more defensive position. WIth the right pieces in place, Allegri’s system was devastatingly effective, which is one reason why he got to two Champions League finals in three seasons (losing both).

Strengths

It’s kind of difficult to argue with the number of trophies Allegri has won in his career. Under Allegri, Juventus displayed a high degree of tactical versatility, was not bound to a dogmatic style, and relied on the creativity of his players to unlock defenses. There was a great degree of freedom for players to operate within his framework, and he was known as a manager that was unafraid to tinker and look for alternate solutions if things weren’t going according to plan. Allegri’s tactics, however, require a great deal of individual skill. WIth the pieces in place his teams could operate with a great deal of success, however he’s never really had to rebuild a program before. He’s not walking into a Tottenham Hotspur that just made the Champions League final, he’d be joining a club that’s struggling to find an identity.

Weaknesses

Allegri’s tactics are hard to argue with. However, he has come under quite a bit of fair criticism over how he handles his players. Specifically, he is not a man-manager — Allegri’s sides tend to work well when he has strong leaders in his team, but he’s definitely not one to put his arm around the shoulders of his players to lift them up. With Spurs possibly heading into a phase with a leadership vacuum requiring a rebuild (depending on departures), this is potentially a concern.

Secondly, as tactically astute as Allegri is, from a technological standpoint he’s a dinosaur. He notably has very little time for things like advanced metrics and stats-based recruitment. He doesn’t even own a laptop! Allegri puts a lot more stock in physically watching “how the players move their legs” than he does things like the under/overperformance of xG. He even called the idea that managers could glean something from watching matches from the stands “mega-bulls—t, one of the biggest bull—ts I’ve ever heard.” It’s an extreme form of coaching reductionism, and it’s already making me tear my hair out just thinking of it. Think Harry Redknapp’s FRAAB system, but on steroids. It certainly worked in the past at two Italian clubs, but it seems to miss the forest for the trees, and with more and more Premier League clubs trying to get a leg up via stats-based analytics departments and metrics, there’s the very real possibility that, under Allegri, Spurs could be left behind.

There are also questions as to whether Allegri’s methods, which were novel 3-4 years ago but are now fairly standard in football these days, would work as well in the higher-paced world of English football. Allegri has never managed outside of Italy, and we’ve seen other managers come in from the continent and flame out when confronted with the Premier League.

Finally, Allegri reportedly doesn’t speak English very well, That was an issue for Mauricio Pochettino while at Southampton and when he was brought in he was required to give his press conferences in English. I don’t know if that’s a dealbreaker for Daniel Levy, but it’s something that has been a factor in past appointments.

The Verdict

Likeliness of being hired

If you’d have asked this question 3-4 weeks ago, the answer could have been different. At this point, all the scuttlebutt about Allegri indicates that he’s been mooted and is probably on a shortlist, but isn’t one of the preferred candidates. The advantage however is that as he’s unemployed Spurs wouldn’t need to pay another club to release him from his contract.

Grade if Hired: B-

Allegri’s availability does bring up that earlier question — if he’s so good, why hasn’t he been snapped up by another club by now? The combination of COVID and his perceived weaknesses and antipathy towards analytics could be a big part of why. And frankly, for me those are big concerns. As good a manager as Allegri has been, it’s very difficult for me to look at him and say “Yeah, this is a guy who meshes well with the culture of Tottenham Hotspur.” And maybe I’m wrong! He could be The Guy to turn things around and establish Spurs as a genuine power. However, I have my doubts. As good a manager as he is and could be, Allegri just doesn’t seem like a good fit. After a disastrous season and a half under Jose Mourinho, “fit” is just as important as ability.