Two statements can be true at once.
Massimiliano Allegri is by every metric one of the greatest coaches in Italian football history. He’s won six Scudetti, four Coppa Italia and three Supercoppa titles. He led Juventus to one of the most successful periods in the history of the club — and most dominant, historically speaking, ever — with four straight domestic doubles and two Champions League final appearances from 2014 to 2018.
To summarize, by pretty much any measure, Allegri is a good football coach.
On his return to the club after leaving in 2019, he also led Juventus to their worst season in a decade. Authoring a trophy-less year, losing two cup finals — against Inter Milan of all teams — getting historically embarrassed in a Champions League Round of 16 exit and barely finishing top four. It was a catastrophically bad season for a team with as many resources, history and tradition of success like Juventus. And the very same Allegri has to — by definition — bear a pretty big share of the blame for that.
The question here really is, just how much he is to blame for his comeback season unfolding in such a disappointing manner?
To have a season as bad as Juve had a lot of things have to go awry, some of them we can blame on the coach, some of them are out of his hands.
It seems crazy to think back on it, but Cristiano Ronaldo was still a Juventus player when the 2021-22 season started. After a summer of dalliances and rumors and cryptic social media posts that pointed to Ronaldo leaving the club, it seemed like he was honoring his contract with Juventus after all. He played in the first game of the season against Udinese, came in as a second-half sub, scored what seemed to be the winning goal only for it to be disallowed on VAR review and left Turin a few days later to never be seen again.
Whatever your opinion of the man and his Bianconeri stint is, it’s undeniable that to lose a guy of his skill so late in the transfer window and after you spent pretty much all of your offseason preparation with the understanding that he would be on the team is a pretty big blow. From one moment to the next, you are without 25 to 35 goals a season. That’s not easy to overcome tactically, and it’s significantly less easier when there is no clear substitute for his production.
Not only did Allegri have to manage with that being problematic, but the man many pegged to be the best player on the team in waiting was pretty much a non-factor all year. Federico Chiesa only played 18 games in all competitions after nagging injuries rendered him unavailable for long stretches in the first half of the year and an ACL tear in the second half killing his season for good. We grew accustomed to Chiesa not being in the lineup, but coming into the year is not crazy to say that Chiesa and Ronaldo were two of the best players on the roster and both ended up not featuring in Allegri's comeback season.
Chiesa is clearly the headliner, but Juventus had one of the most extensive injury lists in recent years that I can remember. I mentioned it in previous Grab Bags but every single player in the squad missed at least one game due to either injury or COVID-19, that is brutal to have to deal with and no matter how deep — or not — your team is, so many injuries are bound to have an impact.
The list is long, but it was also seemingly teeming with irony. Paulo Dybala didn’t end up missing as many games as the discourse around his injuries would lead you to believe, but they were always poorly timed, right when he was starting to round into shape some minor knock would take him out of it. Weston McKennie’s injury is probably the worst one of this category, and one of his better games as a Juve player overall ended up being his last. Name any important player in the team — outside of Dusan Vlahovic — and they missed time last season due to injury.
One of the biggest knocks against Allegri last year was the lack of identity of the team. Who are we? What do we play? What’s the style? To most Juve faithful, the answers were hard to find. With all that being said, it’s very hard to establish a solid foundation or playing style when you are more often than not playing the guys who are available, rather than the best ones for the job.
There were a lot of factors that Allegri just couldn’t control but even so that doesn’t expunge him of all blame. While it is true that for long stretches of the year he wasn’t exactly playing with a full deck, he made some baffling choices — especially regarding the positioning of his midfield players — that cannot be overlooked.
I’ve talked about it before, but Denis Zakaria — a natural center midfielder if there ever was one — playing most of his minutes for Juventus in a box-to-box rule remains absolutely baffling. Adrien Rabiot being used on the left wing or Federico Bernardeschi as a midfielder are just a handful of the examples that made you think that Allegri was perhaps getting too cute with it.
You also have to mention that despite harboring a reputation of being a defensive coach, by the numbers, Juventus defense wasn’t necessarily all that much better than under his predecessor and was in the wrong side of historical European drubbings at the hands of Chelsea and Villarreal in the Champions League.
Unlike the previous two disappointing coaches in Juventus land, it seems like an almost certainty that Allegri will retain his post heading into next season. Mostly due to his contract, sure, but also because that very same pedigree mentioned above is going to get him some major leeway anywhere he goes.
At the end of the day there are enough variables in play to reasonably make the case that Allegri should be cut some slack, this season wasn’t good by any stretch of the imagination but even so that still leaves Allegri with a positive record of successful seasons — five — against one disappointment.
Talented coaches don’t forget how to do their jobs after two years of being out of the game, and there is a much more sustained track record for Allegri to suggest that he has the talent to turn this ship around rather than the disaster that was the 2021-22 season.
(Let’s not forget that Carlo Ancelotti was coming of his two worst stints as a coach since the 90’s — by points per game managed — at Napoli an Everton before winning the Champions League and La Liga with Real Madrid. People called Ancelotti washed after being let go by Napoli. Track of success matters in coaching.)
With a healthy Chiesa, a full season of Vlahovic, the probable comeback of a certain French talented midfielder and what has to be some improved injury luck putting the future of the club in the hand’s of one of the best Juve managers of the millennium seems like a decent bet.
Then again, the people demand a grade and despite all the above reasonings and me still being bullish on Allegri moving forward, you can’t get a passing grade after the worst season the club has experienced in well over a decade. Them’s the breaks.