You’re in high school again, and your friend Eric tells you he’s not obsessed with this girl Nicole. Eric says he’s concentrated on things like homework, inane resume-builders like the math club, and, of course, soccer (Eric is the first-choice left back for the school’s mediocre team).
But let him repeat himself: He is definitely not obsessed with Nicole. Definitely. She’s tough to get, he says, and a ton of other dudes are going after her. Sure, it’d be nice to go out with Nicole — he never said it wouldn’t be. It’d be great. But he’s not obsessed. Definitely not obsessed.
You believe him at first, given the relative soundness of his reasoning vis-a-vis the competition surrounding Nicole, but when Eric starts texting you about his non-obsession with Nicole, when he starts really broadcasting his non-obsession, and then when he goes on a tirade about his non-obsession, you start to wonder whether he’s telling the truth.
Eric, of course, is Max Allegri, the Juventus boss who is definitely not — let him assure you — obsessed with the Champions League.
Fury & refrains
After last weekend’s 1-1 draw with Inter Milan in the Derby d’Italia, Allegri exploded on live television:
It was a magical moment in a league of magical moments, and it opened up Allegri’s normally calm demeanor in a way that only occasionally happens. Every once and a while the manager will rip his jacket off on the sideline or something like that, but this tantrum with pundit (and, let it be said, former Inter player) Lele Adani really wrenched something open deep within Allegri.
Here is a translation of some of Allegri’s outburst, and here is one of the more salient points: “In Italy, everyone has become a theorist of football and that is a real problem, like you reading your books. Now you shut up and I’ll talk, you don’t know anything about football. ... You just sit there behind the desk, you read your books, but you don’t know anything about the practicality of the sport. I’ve won six Scudetti.”
The eternal Juventus debate: a dominant run of Scudetti with no Champions League glory to show for it.
I could create a liturgical calendar around the various times when Allegri will say, to some effect, that he and Juventus are not obsessed with the Champions League. The first echoes of this somber declaration sound at the end of each August, around when the draws are announced. Allegri will tell the media that Juventus certainly will put lots of effort into the Champions League, but that “it’s no guarantee” and “there are many other good teams trying to win the Champions League,” etc., etc.
When Juventus inevitably drop ridiculous points during the group phase, he’ll reiterate those points.
The oil really hits the pan when Juventus dig themselves a seemingly insurmountable hole either in the round of 16 or the quarterfinals (see: Atletico Madrid 2019, Tottenham 2018), or when Allegri is hedging before a big game — perhaps in an attempt to relieve some pressure off his squad.
Here, for example, was Allegri this past November before a Series A matchup with Cagliari days before the game against Manchester United: “We are working to achieve the goal that in recent years we have not managed to achieve, the Champions League, but it is not an obsession. I am lucky to train Juventus, it is one of the most important companies in Europe, a formation that can aspire to win it. This year the No. 1 candidate is Barcelona.”
(Turns out he wasn’t wrong about Barcelona!)
Who is Max Allegri?
As Allegri himself pointed out, he’s won six Scudetti. That’s a lot. In fact, it’s one away from tying Giovanni Trappatoni for the most of any manager. Five of Allegri’s league titles have come with Juventus, one with Milan. He’s won four Coppa Italia trophies with the Old Lady as well. In the Champions League, he’s come oh-so-close, losing the 2015 final to Barcelona and the 2017 final to Real Madrid.
Now, though, he’s staring at back-to-back quarterfinal exits, this year with the help of Cristiano Ronaldo. He’s dealing with a Juventus fanbase that is more and more dissatisfied with just winning league titles (or doubles), and — perhaps more than anything — in a world of changing football styles and methods, he’s dealing with a host of naysayers who claim his approach just won’t work, or else is just plain boring, or both.
Allegri is known for his pragmatic approach to the game. It’s not pretty — not Pep, not Klopp, not Sarri. For those of us who have labored through every Juventus game for the past several years during Allegri's reign, each new 90-minute struggle is nothing new. In fact I’m shocked when, over and over, some inevitably British announcer on an American broadcast makes a point midway through a Juventus game about “Juventus not looking like Juventus” because of lack of possession or fluidity.
That, in fact, has been Juventus for a few years running. But the Bianconeri just keep on winning regardless.
Allegri is a mostly calm personality, or maybe “calm” isn’t the right word — “tame but taut” might be more appropriate. In press conferences he’ll speak openly and matter-of-factly, and then he’ll blow up like last weekend. In games he’ll fold his arms over his chest and survey even-handedly, and then he’ll strip off his Juventus-emblazoned sport coat and scream so loud the broadcast microphones pick it up.
He’s both straightforward and enigmatic, and in fact that’s quite apropos for his results: six Scudetti, four Coppa Italias, two Champions League runners-up. It’s clear as crystal; it’s objective what he’s done.
But the question remains: If Champions League is the goal for Juventus, is Allegri the right man to take them there?
The dumbest answer possible
I have no idea whether Allegri is the right manager to take Juventus forward. You have no idea, either. This week we saw Jurgen Klopp, one of the most highly regarded managers in Europe, make some head-scratching decisions that partially led to Liverpool’s 3-0 letdown. Pep Guardiola has an unlimited bank account and absolutely stacked roster with Manchester City and exited the Champions League against a Spurs side without Harry Kane for half the battle and generally decimated by injuries.
There is essentially and absolutely no way of knowing who the right man is for the job at the right time with the right management and the right confluence of circumstance, personnel, and — ever-present in the sport — luck.
I go back and forth on whether or not I think Juventus should move on from Max. He’s undoubtedly been successful, even without the Champions League crown. He owns Serie A and there’s not really an end in sight at this point domestically. Yet his style and approach beg serious questions, and for most people besides the manager himself the Ajax game in Turin exposed that truth.
Sometimes you need to take a step sideways to actually move forward. When Juventus hired Allegri in the first place, fans weren’t completely thrilled with the move; Antonio Conte had guided them out of the depths, and Allegri at the time wasn’t anywhere near where a Pep, Klopp, or even a Mauricio Pochettino would be now.
At the moment, Allegri is returning to Juventus for the final year of his contract. There are rumors and speculation, but this is finally true for Juventus: They know exactly what they have in Allegri, and a move for another manager would be a high-risk gambit.