April is now coming to an end, and Serie A is taking on the shape of one of its most thrilling season-finishes. At the time of writing, Juventus – a side who were pretty much written off to finish largely in the same position as they did in their two previous seasons, sit pretty at the top of the table. Three point behind lie former-favourites A.C. Milan, who have seen their form stutter over the past month and questions constantly asked about their ability to defend their title, especially in light of their disappointing home draw against Bologna in week 34.
Despite winning the title at his first attempt and keeping Milan in the Scudetto challenge this season, coach Massimiliano Allegri is now having his future at the club questioned after elimination from the UEFA Champions League and the Coppa Italia, as well as surrendering a once healthy four-point lead over the Bianconeri. A scenario previously deemed unfathomable, Allegri has had to contend with rumours that he could be replaced if he does not succeed in delivering the Scudetto this season.
The question is, is it fair to pull the carpet from under Allegri’s feet after all the promise he has shown? Surely fate cannot be so cruel for the talented young coach, who has virtually done the impossible; dragged an injury-ravaged team from six points behind the early pacesetters and current leaders to overtake their opponents and stay within touching distance of the Scudetto, only to see his exhausted team crumble at the end, its last energy spent.
Sacking Allegri will be a poorly evaluated knee-jerk reaction that only focuses on the deficit at hand rather than the achievements he has obtained at Milan. The same parameters that were used to judge his work in the 2010/2011 season cannot be imposed here with accuracy, given the presence of greatly reinforced opponents that make it an unrealistic expectation to take this season as a stroll in the park.
Comparisons between Allegri and his counterpart Antonio Conte have been aplenty given their young age, yet they are misleading, failing to take into account the latter has not yet been fully tested due to a kinder set of circumstances, such as a more spacious fixture list. Truth be told, rarely do coaches in Italy get put through such grueling tests as those Allegri has had to endure and emerge with similar aplomb. If last season lent supporters a hint of the talent he possessed, this season provided plain evidence of it.
That Allegri has had to turn to squad players in Daniele Bonera and Urby Emanualson in place of first team regulars, and have them respond by contributing more than would normally have been asked of them for weeks on end are testament to his ability to motivate and improve the worth and belief of his squad, a trait that has been unfairly overshadowed by them now sitting in second place behind Juventus.
Should he be replaced, who else of equal standing and coaching caliber is on hand to possibly replace him and deliver similar results? Fault him for his mismanagement in rushing back key injured players such as Thiago Silva and Alexandre Pato, yet these are all mistakes the next coach could just as easily make. Is he too mired to the 4-3-1-2? Purchase players who can provide him alternatives, and you may just see Milan start employing a different tactical approach to games.
The season is far from over; Milan and Allegri’s detractors would be wise to wait till its end when a proper evaluation can be carried out before opting to write the coach off, but in the opinion of this writer at least, he already has had the last laugh, no matter what his fate has in store for him.