As any Juventino/a who hasn’t been living in an undersea cavern now knows, Juventus and manager Massimiliano Allegri have officially parted ways after five seasons.
There will be more details about the split at Saturday’s pre-match press conference featuring both Allegri and club president Andrea Agnelli, but most observers have seen this coming for a long time. While a good number of people will chalk his departure up to his failure to win the Champions League, especially in the past two years — and especially with Cristiano Ronaldo in the team — that’s a gross oversimplification. The fact of the matter is that the team has looked unresponsive to him for the better part of the season, and especially after Christmas. With the exception of the incredible second-leg comeback against Atletico Madrid in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 and a few other early-season matches, Allegri hasn’t gotten the team to play to its potential at all.
Every coach reaches the end of their cycle. By late February or so, it was clear that Allegri had reached his. He leaves behind an impressive record over his five years: 11 trophies (five scudetti, four Coppa Italia titles, and two Supercoppa Italiana wins), two appearances in the Champions League final, and 191 wins in 269 competitive matches (two games remain on this year’s schedule).
But now the biggest question facing Juventus in the future is who will replace Max on the bench. Whoever does so will have huge expectations. With three years of Ronaldo’s contract remaining (and perhaps fewer of him at peak level), Juve’s new coach will be under tremendous pressure to end the team’s long Champions League drought and will likely even come under criticism from fans if the team doesn’t look instantly more attacking than it did under Allegri’s increasingly negative approach over the past two years.
Who is most likely to take on this task? Let’s look at five top candidates — plus one dark horse — for the job.
The rumblings in the last week were that Conte was closing in on a reunion with Beppe Marotta at Inter. But now that the Juve job is officially open, things could change.
Conte already has a well-earned place in the history of Juventus. He was a beloved captain on the field and, in his first stint on the bench, took Juve from the doldrums of the post-calciopoli era to the dominant force in calcio at lightning speed. On paper, he had no business winning a scudetto with his first team in 2011-12, let alone going undefeated along the way. If he were to return and become the man who finally brought the Cup With the Big Ears back to Turin, he would become one of the ultimate legends of the club.
Whether or not that will happen is difficult to see. As mentioned, the Inter reports have been heating up for the better part of two weeks now, and he has never fully made up with Andrea Agnelli after the events that led up to his departure in 2014. Things have gotten slightly better between the two, but not totally. People will tell you that sporting director Fabio Paratici and team vice-president Pavel Nedved are solidly in Conte’s corner, so that could have a factor as well.
There are, of course, pros and cons about hiring Conte. Many will say that second acts never work out well for coaches, although Juve have bucked that conventional wisdom at times, with both Giovanni Trappatoni and Marcelo Lippi enjoying some success after returning to the club.
Since his departure, Conte has been dinged for not properly rotating players during his first stint, as well as tactical inflexibility and a general lack of success in Europe. The first is a valid criticism, although toward the end of his final season injuries also had a big part to play in that regard. One would hope that two years in England, where the presence of two domestic cup competitions produces a much more clogged fixture list, has helped him overcome that problem. The second item is a bit more complex. Any coach has a signature style, and the 3-5-2 became Conte’s, although there were signs that he was starting to diversify. He played two games in the Champions League group stage against Real Madrid in 4-3-3 formations, and part of his breakup with the club had to do with the fact that they had missed out that summer on two attackers—Alexis Sanchez and Juan Iturbe—that did their best work out wide. The fact that Iturbe turned out to be a bust at Roma is immaterial here; it looks very much like Conte was thinking about shuffling his cards that summer.
As for lack of success in Europe, I tend to think of this as sour grapes over how he left. The team had a fundamental lack of experience in Europe at that point that made growing pains on the continent a painful but necessary reality. As a counterpoint to that claim, I give you Euro 2016, where Conte took the worst team Italy has ever sent to a major tournament to within two idiotic decisions in a penalty shootout of the semifinals.
What Conte can really bring to this team is the grinta that has been palpably ebbing away in the last few years as team leaders have left and his days as manager get further into the rear view mirror. There are roster issues to fix for sure, but Juve also needs a major kick in the rear mentality-wise, and there’s no better man to make that happen than the guy who instilled it in the first place. If the club were to add some midfield reinforcements to the roster’s talented array of attackers, the sky could be the limit for him if he were to return.
DARK HORSE: MASSIMIO CARRERA
I’ve chosen to list our dark horse here because of his connection to Conte.
Carrera was one of Conte’s assistants during his three years at Juve, and was in charge of the team while Conte and his top assistant, Angelo Alessio, were suspended due to their (very dubious) connections to the 2012 match-fixing scandal in Serie B. He was at the helm for 10 competitive matches and led the team to a 7-3-0 record. He also spent five years with Juve as a player from 1991 to 1996, earning 166 caps in all competitions, and was a member of the last Juve team to win the Champions League, though he wasn’t in the matchday squad for the final.
He followed Conte to the Italian national team and then was hired as an assistant at Spartak Moscow of the Russian Premier League after Euro 2016. He was only an assistant for a few months — Spartak’s manager was fired after crashing out of the Europa League in qualification and Carrera was made interim coach before being given the job outright a few weeks later. He went on to have one of the best starts Spartak has ever seen in a coach, and won the team’s first Russian league title in more than 15 years. The next season he more than held his own in a Champions League group that contained Liverpool and Sevilla, and went into the final day of the group stage with a chance to advance before eventually finishing third. He was so well liked by the team’s fans that when he was sacked after a poor start to the ‘18-19 campaign some supporters called for the removal of players they thought supported the move.
Carrera knows what it means to win at Juventus, and he has experience in the Champions League with both Juve and Spartak. It’s not likely that he will fill this particular vacancy, but it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if he coached Juventus some day.
Lazio boss Simone Inzaghi’s name has come up a few times in talking about life after Allegri, especially now that the split has been confirmed.
The brother of former Juve striker Pippo, Simone Inzaghi is fresh off winning the Coppa Italia this week, but after his team’s win he didn’t totally close the door on the possibility of an exit, and seemed to express frustration about criticism of him from inside the club.
He certainly has the kind of attacking style that Juve fans would love to see. He’s been credited with resurrecting the career of Ciro Immobile after the striker’s wanderings in the desert following his departure from Torino, and has been a particular thorn in the side of the Bianconeri. He beat them twice two seasons ago — once in the Supercoppa and again in Turin — and this January forced one of Juve’s worst performances since the Conte/Allegri era began. Fortune wasn’t with him that night, and his team’s profligacy in front of goal was punished with two late Juve goals for a 2-1 Juve win, but that game was one of the first signs that Allegri’s typical post-Christmas surge in form might not be coming this time.
One of the best up-and-coming coaches Italy has, a jump to Juve could well be in the cards, although it’s likely Claudio Lotito would make any departure from Lazio difficult. On the flip side, Pavel Nedved played with him at Lazio before he moved to Juve, which would be a powerful voice in his corner if Nedved chose to back him.
EUSEBIO DI FRANCESCO
Di Francesco is not being talked about much in the media in the reference to Juve’s new opening, but personally I don’t see why he shouldn’t be.
Few coaches have ever gotten more of a raw deal than EDF did this year. The team he took to the Champions League semifinal a season ago was gutted and replenished with players who, while talented, clearly needed some seasoning. The loss of goalkeeper Alisson to Liverpool was the cruelest blow, especially given how terrible Robin Olsen has been in his place.
He was fired after crashing out of the Champions League in the round of 16 at the hands of Porto — a tie they had led after the first leg — most Roma fans will tell you that he was the fall guy for bad management by the likes of Monchi and team president James Palotta.
It would be interesting to see what Di Francesco can do somewhere where his key players won’t be sold out from under him every summer. And if fans want to see attacking football, there’s no better man. A disciple of
madman attacking guru Zdenek Zeman, Di Francesco melds the best of the Czech’s all-out attacking style with enough defensive oomph to make teams balanced (for the most part). He turned Sassuolo — a team that represents a town that could fit inside the San Siro twice over — from a minnow to a team that most expect to finish mid-table when the season begins. He got the Neroverdi all the way to sixth in 2015-16 and getting to the group stage in the next year’s Europa League, where they caused a major shock by beating Athletic Bilbao 3-0 on the first matchday.
He does bear some criticism. He was very late recognizing that the three-man defense that he had pulled out of nowhere to pull an insane comeback win over Barcelona in last year’s UCL quarterfinal was not the right play against Liverpool in the next round, leaving his team in a big hole after the first leg. But it’s a testament to his quality that Roma very nearly dug themselves out of said hole the next week, and arguably would have won the tie but for some questionable refereeing.
He’s a good candidate, and really ought to be getting more noise for the job than he currently is.
Pochettino’s Tottenham side is headed to the Champions League final after an improbable comeback against Ajax in the semis, but the Argentine coach has yet to fully commit to staying at Spurs long-term.
It’s not hard to see why. Spurs owner Daniel Levy hasn’t signed a player since January of 2018, and last week Pochettino said he was “open to everything” in terms of his future, adding that he would be foolish to go on at Tottenham without a firm idea of the team’s plans going forward.
It will be interesting to see what that plan might be. Levy could very well loosen the seals when it comes to signing new players this summer now that Spurs’ long-delayed new stadium is finally open, which could convince Pochettino to stay. Or he could simply decide that his current magic run with Spurs is the limit he can go with the club regardless of signings and look for a new challenge.
If he does the latter, Juve would be obvious players for his services. Apart from the technical aspects — and the chance to coach Ronaldo — and the greater willingness to spend, Pochettino has strong ties to Turin, with his family having emigrated to Argentina from the area.
This list isn’t in any order of preference or likelihood, but I’ve left the last two entries to deal with coaches that are being talked about in the media but are unlikely to get the job. In Deschamps’ case, it’s a case of poor timing.
The Frenchman has oodles of Juve connections. He played all 120 minutes of the 1996 Champions League final against Ajax, the last time Juve won the competition, and managed the team in the ‘06-07 season after the post-calciopoli demotion to Serie B. He won the competition by six points despite starting in a nine-point hole, but resigned after clashes with team management. He later admitted that that decision was a mistake, and given the fact that the management team is completely different, it stands to reason that he might want to come back to right his unfinished business.
He’s certainly earned his place as one of Europe’s premier coaches. After leaving Turin he won four trophies with Olympique Marseilles, including their first Ligue 1 title in 18 years in ‘09-10 and three straight French league cups. In ‘11-12 he got them to the Champions League quarters for the first time since 1993, beating Inter in the process, proving himself to still be a good little Juventino.
Since 2012 he’s been the coach of the French national team, and this past summer he brought Les Bleus to their second World Cup title. Here, though, lies the rub: it’s highly unlikely that Deschamps will leave France before Euro 2020, especially now that qualification has begun. Frankly, my read on this entire situation until Friday was that Allegri would be kept on for one more year as a holding pattern until the Euros ended and Deschamps was brought in to succeed him.
Obviously that won’t be the case anymore, but I get the feeling that the next time the Juve job opens up Deschamps will be the first man in line.
I’m putting him on the list in order to placate the potential commenters who will be screaming for him to take the job.
But let’s face facts people: Guardiola is in the best situation he could possibly be in right now. He has more talent on his roster than he knows what to do with and a budget limited only by how strictly UEFA enforces Financial Fair Play. UEFA are indeed likely to seek a Champions League ban for FFP violations, but there’s no guarantee that it would go into effect this year given City’s right to appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport — or that it would hold up on said appeal. As he said vehemently on Friday, he’s not likely to go anywhere.
Even if Guardiola were amenable to leaving City and coming to Italy, it might not be the best thing for the team. He would command a huge salary, and the front office would have to make a bunch of transfers to stock the roster with players who fit his system. Given the immense amount of money the club has invested in Cristiano Ronaldo, that might not be feasible right now.