x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

The path of youth pays off for Serie A clubs with their managers

Young coaches in Italy are acquitting themselves admirably at the country's big clubs.

Massimiliano Allegri's AC Milan made an unconvincing path through to the last eight of the Champions League.
Massimiliano Allegri's AC Milan made an unconvincing path through to the last eight of the Champions League.

There will be at least two Italian head coaches in the quarter-finals of the Champions League, although at various points on Tuesday it looked as if even that figure might be in jeopardy.

During the day reports filtered out of Inter Milan that an offer was being prepared to bring in Andre Villas-Boas, freshly sacked by Chelsea, to replace Claudio Ranieri as the manager.

Then two good Italian managers found themselves in difficulties on the touchline.

Luciano Spalletti's Zenit Saint Petersburg failed to defend their 3-2 first leg advantage against Benfica, so he was out of Europe.

In London, three first-half Arsenal goals threatened to eradicate the four-goal advantage Massimiliano Allegri's AC Milan had taken there. Milan's vice-president Adriano Galliani confessed to having retreated to the dressing room for the last 20 minutes, not daring to witness Milan hanging on to their 4-3 aggregate advantage.

It may well have crossed Galliani's mind that Allegri was at fault, for not fortifying his players against complacency.

Two more Italian coaches, one a relative novice, the other contesting for the first time a last-16 tie in club football's most elevated competition, will come head to head when Chelsea next week host Napoli.

Roberto di Matteo, a former Italy international, has replaced Villas-Boas temporarily and would find his candidacy for a permanent appointment enhanced should his team achieve the 2-0 - or greater - victory they require to go through at the expense of Walter Mazzarri's Napoli. That is not impossible if Di Matteo can harness Chelsea's strengths.

Di Matteo has held management jobs before, with English clubs, but has seldom been identified as a rising star of coaching within Italy. Perhaps that is because there are so many who have.

Allegri, considered over-promoted when he took over at Milan 20 months ago, is still only 44. Juventus's Antonio Conte is just 42. Should Inter pursue Villas-Boas then the average age of managers in charge of the so-called Big Three clubs would be just 40.

Add Roma's Luis Enrique, 41 - if he remains in place despite the club's up-down form in his first season - and the quartet of clubs who have made most of the running in Serie A this century would all be following the path of youth.

It is an intriguing prospect, but would require presidents to hold their nerve and trust young managers to impose the steel and discipline on players to hold on to a lead.