x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Allegri fits in at Milan like a hand in glove

Team¿s fortunes result of Tuscan¿s handling of egos and revival of careers on downturn.

Massimiliano Allegri has guided AC Milan astutely.
Massimiliano Allegri has guided AC Milan astutely.

This time last year, Massimiliano Allegri was out of work. He had been, as Cagliari, the Sardinian club, put it suddenly and abruptly in a statement issued in the middle of April 2010, "removed from duties as first-team manager".

Cagliari had suffered a poor run of spring form, but this was still the man whose achievements the previous campaign had seen him elected by fellow Serie A coaches as the best in the division, not for titles and trophies but for having made a team punch above their weight.

Unemployed, Allegri sensed his esteem had not fallen so rapidly. Juventus were said to be thinking of appointing him. Then AC Milan called, hinting that their arrangement with Leonardo, appointed coach in the summer of 2009, had not been fruitful.

By the summer Allegri was being presented by a jocular Milan president Silvio Berlusconi as "born to coach Milan, and as good-looking as a film star". Berlusconi's Cagliari counterpart, Massimo Cellino muttered out loud: "He's not capable of dealing with the egos of all the stars at Milan."

Milan, who could claim the Serie A title tonight should they take a point or three from their fixture at Roma, are indeed a star-studded collection, with an even greater spread of egos than Allegri had envisaged when he signed by far the biggest contract of his career in football.

He had not expected, last June, to be taking charge of a squad that included Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who joined, with an ego visibly bruised, from Barcelona in the last weekend of August; nor Robinho, whose haphazard journey to "proving myself the best player in the world" - Robinho declared that his ambition when leaving Real Madrid - had moved him from Manchester City to Milan, also late in the transfer window.

Nor was Antonio Cassano, encountering ego-related problems at Sampdoria that would push him to Milan in January, on the agenda.

The Tuscan coach has guided these newcomers astutely, found a method of maintaining his relative independence from Berlusconi, with whom Leonardo had clashed, and emerged very much in the vanguard of a group of fashionably young European coaches.

Carlo Ancelotti was the last man to steer Milan to a Serie A crown. The Chelsea manager's legacy included some well-honed routines and an old guard who have been getting older for the best part of a half a decade.

Some have played an important part in the success of 2010/11. Alessandro Nesta has enjoyed, if not quite an Indian summer, some towering performances.

Gennaro Gattuso, who looked ready to leave last summer, has had memorable cameos in the domestic campaign, like his winning goal against Juventus in Turin. Clarence Seedorf, while enduring some ups and downs, has often responded favourably to Allegri's use of his skills and experience in an advanced role.

And Ronaldinho? It sometimes seems longer than a mere four months that he was waving good-bye to a Milan and to a Berlusconi, who sought from Ancelotti and Leonardo a commitment that the Brazilian should be a strategic centre-piece. Allegri approved Ronaldinho's departure. He has not been left regretting that decision.

Ibrahimovic's goals helped Milan take up a position at the summit early in the campaign. They have stayed there, even if the Swede's potency has not been sustained in the run-in. A striker who has some prickly relationships with coaches in his career, he endorsed Allegri.

"There's a good atmosphere," Ibrahimovic said after two months at Milan, "and the coach is more relaxed than a Fabio Capello or a Jose Mourinho, others I've worked with. But you can also see he's capable of getting angry."

There is still a lack of width at times in Milan's football, though that comes from a personnel shortage Allegri inherited.

In Europe, such flaws count for more, and Milan's Champions League campaign was a flop. In Italy, though, they have emerged head and shoulders above the rest.

They go to Rome's Stadio Olimpico with Allegri entitled to anticipate a coronation, to accept congratulations from his opposite number, Vicenzo Montella, Roma's 36-year-old caretaker coach.

To Montella Allegri can say, with sincerity, coaching seems to be becoming a younger man's game.

Fixtures

Today

Palermo v Bari 8pm

Roma v AC Milan 10.45pm

Tomorrow

Bologna v Parma 5pm

Brescia v Catania 5pm

Cagliari v Cesena 5pm

Inter Milan v Fiorentina 5pm

Genoa v Sampdoria 5pm

Lecce v Napoli 5pm

Udinese v Lazio 5pm

Monday

Juventus v Chievo 10.45pm

Serie A table

Team P W D L GD P

AC Milan 35 23 8 4 38 77 Inter Milan 35 21 6 8 23 69

Napoli 35 21 5 9 21 68 Lazio 35 18 6 11 13 60

Udinese 35 18 5 12 19 59 Roma 35 17 8 10 6 59

Juventus 35 15 11 9 11 56 Palermo 35 15 5 15 -5 50

Fiorentina 35 12 13 10 7 49 Genoa 35 12 9 14 -2 45

Cagliari 35 12 8 15 -2 44 Chievo 35 10 12 13 -2 42

Parma 35 10 11 14 -9 41 Catania 35 10 10 15 -12 40

Bologna 35 11 10 14 -13 40* Cesena 35 9 10 16 -14 37

Sampdoria 35 8 12 15 -12 36 Lecce 35 9 8 18 -21 35

Brescia 35 7 10 18 -16 31 Bari 35 4 9 22 -30 21 *3 pts deducted for tax irregularities