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Team Focus: Milan's Allegri a Contender for Coach of the Year?

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Team Focus: Milan's Allegri a Contender for Coach of the Year?

 

Oops, he did it again. Discretion, it seems, is not a word in Silvio Berlusconi's vocabulary. Regardless of who's around he'll say what's on his mind. Whether anyone in the vicinity has a tape recorder or a video camera is an afterthought.

And so it was that when asked about Milan while on the political campaign trail last week Berlusconi once again expressed his preference that they play with three up front against Barcelona in the Champions League. Milan needed to attack them, he said. There's no other way.

Does Allegri know that, someone asked? "He doesn't understand s**t," Berlusconi replied in local dialect.

He'd later backtrack and claim that he was actually talking about something else. Allegri's phone rang. Berlusconi was calling to clarify his comments. It was nothing, we were told. Chief executive Adriano Galliani came out and said: "Allegri has a contract and I'll say it for the 270th time he'll be Milan's coach next year too.... When I renewed Max's contract until 2014 I swear that I notified the president and he agreed with me."

And yet, not everyone accepts that this is really the case. It's no secret that Berlusconi would have liked Marco van Basten to replace Leonardo two and a half years ago. The former Milan striker supposedly declined on health grounds [his knee again, bizarrely] and also indicated that he wasn't ready for the job just yet.

Galliani instead made the case for Allegri on the basis that here was a young coach who'd beaten Jose Mourinho to Italy's Coach of the Year award in his first season working in the top flight. Berlusconi went along with it.

Still you got the sense, even after Allegri won the Scudetto at the first time of asking in 2011 thereby ending a seven-year wait for a league championship, that the president has never totally been on side.

When Milan started the current campaign so woefully, taking seven points from their first eight games in Serie A as they understandably struggled to adapt following the drastic cuts and personnel changes made in the summer, Berlusconi acted as though it were open season to discuss the prospect of appointing a new manager. He revealed how Milan would be among the clubs interested in offering Pep Guardiola a new challenge. The names of van Basten, Frank Rijkaard and that of tonight's opponent Parma coach Roberto Donadoni were all mentioned.

Yet as long as Galliani's got Allegri's back it looks like he's staying.

It has divided many. Critics of Allegri certainly aren't lacking. They say things like: 'How could he allow Andrea Pirlo to leave? That the football his teams play isn't easy on the eye, a pre-requisite at Milan at least since Berlusconi bought the club in 1986, and that if he won the title 18 months ago it was only because he had Thiago Silva and Zlatan Ibrahimovic in his team'.

The decision to stick with him, though, is justified. Milan [read: Galliani] should be given credit for placing their faith in Allegri. Because believe it or not he is fast emerging as a contender for the Coach of the Year award again.

Really? Are you genuinely serious? Well, yes. Just think about it for a minute. This was "Year Zero" for Milan. They'd made "painful but necessary" cuts. Here's a list of those who were told to empty their lockers at Milanello in the summer: Alessandro Nesta, Thiago Silva, Gianluca Zambrotta, Rino Gattuso, Mark van Bommel, Clarence Seedorf, Alberto Aquilani, Antonio Cassano, Pippo Inzaghi and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Absorbing those losses without experiencing a significant drop in personality, performance and competitiveness was unrealistic. Allegri said the best Milan could hope for this season was to get out of their group in the Champions League and qualify again for the competition. And with the resources available to him, that looked improbable to say the least in late October. For Milan were only outside the relegation zone on goal-difference.

 

Team Focus: Milan's Allegri a Contender for Coach of the Year?

 

Since then, however, they've really pulled themselves together. For instance, if the Serie A season had in fact started on October 27, Milan would be top right now with a one-point lead over Juventus. In that time, they've taken 34 points from their 16 league games, moving up from 15th in the table to fifth. No one is perhaps more aware of this than Inter, who after leaving Milan behind like a speck in their rearview mirror - lest we forget they were 13 points ahead of them at the beginning of November - are now just two points in front.

That sound you hear is Milan preparing an overtaking manoeuvre ahead of the Derby della Madonnina next weekend. It's been a remarkable turnaround and, you have to say, the momentum is now with them in the race for Italy's final Champions League spot.

Look at it this way, the competition for it has arguably got weaker just as they have grown stronger. Lazio, for example, have lost Miroslav Klose, their top scorer in the league, for six to eight weeks. Inter will be without theirs too after Diego Milito was ruled out for the rest of the season following the horrendous knee injury he suffered against Cluj in the Europa League last night. And in the meantime, Milan have of course signed Mario Balotelli. So it's advantage them, perhaps.

That's a reductive analysis. Some have questioned whether Milan had other more pressing needs than another striker. Their problems this season haven't been in attack. Milan's was the fourth best in Serie A when Balotelli arrived and Ibrahimovic hasn't been missed thanks to Stephan El Shaarawy's 18 goals.

Nesta and Thiago Silva's absence on the other hand has been greatly felt. Milan's defence is the worst among the top six in Serie A. They've conceded nine more goals than at this stage last season and, more tellingly, have kept seven fewer clean sheets. The pressure is on Milan's forwards to keep getting the defenders out of jail.

So what of the El Shaarawy, Balotelli, M'Baye Niang trident? There were encouraging signs in their first outing together for Milan against Udinese. El Shaarawy and Balotelli had of course played along side each other once before in a friendly for Italy against France in November. That night Balotelli helped set up El Shaarawy for a debut goal. This time it was the other way round. Twice.

As you might expect, they're not yet totally in sync. That much was evident when Italy played the Netherlands a week ago and for the first hour of Milan's 1-1 draw at Cagliari. El Shaarawy, in particular, was below par, leading some to ask whether they really are compatible or not.

 

Team Focus: Milan's Allegri a Contender for Coach of the Year?

 

A better question would perhaps be this: are they still able to give the best of themselves side-by-side? Is there the risk that they'll step on each other's toes. Hasn't El Shaarawy's game up until now been about cutting inside from the left into the space Balotelli now occupies and getting a shot off? And what about the hierarchy? Should Balotelli just be allowed to walk in and take centre stage when El Shaarawy has been the one to drag this team up the table this season? It's worth considering that El Shaarawy's conversion rate over the course of this season over 20% compared to Balotelli's 6.4%.

The truth is, it's early, way too early to be drawing conclusions.

Against Cagliari, for instance, Riccardo Montolivo was suspended and there was little creative spark from midfield. Then there's the condition of El Shaarawy and Balotelli to consider.

El Shaarawy has played 2470 minutes this season, many of them through the pain barrier too with tendonitis in his knee. He'll miss tonight's game against Parma, the hope being that he'll be ready to face Barcelona next week. Balotelli on the other hand has played less than half that: just 1039 minutes. Even though he has scored three goals in two games, by his own admission his "legs are heavy" and there's still some rust to shake off after spending much of the season at City either on the bench or in the stands.

Everyone should give it time.

"Balotelli and El Shaarawy have to get used to this kind of pressure [being on them]," Italy manager Cesare Prandelli explained. "They are both players said to be destined for greatness and they have to work a lot. I trust a lot in the work of Allegri, who's a great coach." 

And on that note, maybe he does "understand" something about football after all, eh Silvio?

Comments (1)

 
  • Great article, really opened my eyes about Allegri's work. His football isn't beautiful but it obviously is effective enough to bring the results we need. Brilliant idea that if the season would have started on the 9th gameweek. It really should make the Allegri critics think twice.

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Alexis Sanchez Pedro Loïc Remy Sami Allagui Frédéric Kanouté Renato Augusto Jonathan Pitropia Eljero Elia Ivo Llicevic Fernando Muslera Diego Perez Alvaro González Abel Hernandez David VIlla Marcel Schmelzer Danijel Pranjic Holger Badstuber Sven Bender Johan Djourou Darren Fletcher Carlos Kameni Thiago Silve Antonia Di Natale Cristiano Zapata Domenico Criscito Luis Jimenez Josep Ilicic Samuel Eto’o Alexis Thébaux Ludovic Sané Mamouda Sakho Boukary Dramé Daniel Alves Nikolay Mihaylov Charles Puyol Ji-Sung Park Edwin van der Sar Dani Alves John O’Shea Park Ji-Jung Gabi Fernandez Jonathan de Guzman Michael Owen Gary Taylor-Fletcher Ian Evatt DJ Campbell Charles N’Zogbia Wolverhampton Robinho Rudi Garcia Avram Grant Conor Sammon Wayne Bridge Rob Green Victor Obinna Mike Hanke Borussia Munchengladbach VfL Bochum Tomasz Kuszczak Martin Olsson Brett Emerton Jermaine Jones Steven N’Zonzi Muset Ozil Gianpaolo Pazzini Leonardo Seydou Keita Miguel Pallardo Ibrahim Afellay Valdo Pallardo Damien Perquis Luka Modrid David SIlva Roberto Mancini Harry Redknapp Benoit Assou-Ekotto Vedran Corluka Carlo Ancelotti Saloman Kalou Clarence Seedorf Matteo Brighi Fabio Simplicio Rodrigo Taddei Mark Van Bommel Gennaro Gattuso Kevin Prince-Boateng Nicolas Burdisso Elkin Soto Pep Gaurdiola Lassana Diarra Jurgen Klopp Lucas Barrios Antonio da Silva Robert Mak Heurelho Gomes Andre Marriner Pinto Alavro Arbeloa Nikola Zigic Alexander Hleb Cameron Jerome

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