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Running backward: The downfall of Massimiliano Allegri

The Juventus manager might still have a final chance to turn things around, but the downfall of Allegri is essentially complete.

Juventus v SL Benfica: Group H - UEFA Champions League Photo by Sportinfoto/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

In the sixth minute of Juventus’ Aug. 22 matchup against Sampdoria, the blue-clad home side used three passes and two dribbles to slice through the entire Bianconeri defense for a wide-open chance at goal. In that lightning-fast sequence, three of the Old Lady’s most experienced players — Juan Cuadrado, Danilo, and Alex Sandro — were beaten easily, while the reigning Serie A defender of the year, Bremer, completely whiffed on the through-ball. In that lightning-fast sequence, Sampdoria, an Italian relegation battler sitting on all of two points through six fixtures, played quicker and more incisive football than Juventus have the entire season.

Less than 10 minutes later, Cuadrado collected a fortuitous bounce off a Sampdoria defender and marauded toward the goal. The Columbian hardly looked up. In a 3-on-2 situation, with Dušan Vlahović lurking in the middle, the winger unleashed a powerful but aimless effort and the board remained scoreless, as it would remain for the rest of the match.

Vlahović’s reaction already seems to typify the Juventus season so far: alone at the penalty spot, arms outstretched in frustration. There’s anger, there’s confusion, and there’s a lack of results. To describe the campaign as “disjointed” belies how awful reality has been.

The time has come for Massimiliano Allegri to go.

With two wins in eight games, including zero points in the Champions League, the coach has been given ample time to demonstrate he is, indeed, part of the solution, but he has utterly and repeatedly failed. Last season we were told he needed more time. But time has passed, and the team is as aimless as Cuadrado’s shots on goal. This season, though, is young enough to be salvaged, and the financial hit of (another) lost season outweighs the financial hit of firing Allegri.

At its best, Allegriball is a sort of paragon of tactical neutrality. It demands that its players defend like Rottweilers, recover the ball, and then move into sensible spaces for offensive chances in various scenarios — set pieces, counter-attacks, and quick sequences. When Allegriball works, it doesn’t particularly matter what sort of formation or tendencies the opponent brings to the table. The enemy could be a low-block counter-attacking side or a razzle-dazzle, possession-based outfit — Allegri’s Juventus doesn’t need to go back to the drawing board every single time. And in those seasons when Allegri was succeeding, that was what was both beautiful and excruciating. Many of the wins against Italian provincial sides felt as difficult as the wins against European heavyweights — but, after all, they were wins.

We don’t have to pretend that this has never worked. Allegri won five consecutive titles with the Old Lady. He reached two Champions League finals. And he did so with remarkable consistency despite a roster that perpetually seemed a peg or two below the top teams in Europe who the Old Lady often found herself defeating. Now, in his second season of a return to the club, Allegri’s roster is arguably thinner than it has ever been, but the lack of results, constant state of disarray, and general toothlessness are completely uncharacteristic of everything we thought that a Juventus side should be.

Allegri keeps mentioning the injuries, and obviously having Paul Pogba and Federico Chiesa would greatly aid his cause, but injuries, as we know all too well, are a regular part of the game and not a perpetual excuse. I firmly believe that no matter who the manager is, the club remains in fairly dire straits as far as reconstructing this roster in a top-to-bottom manner, but here, for me, is the key: if the current players do not fit Allegriball, or if they are not good enough for Allegriball, the coach is apparently either unwilling or unable to adapt and maximize what he does indeed have at his disposal. That is the crux of the entire Allegri dilemma.

Juventus Unveil New Signing Paul Pogba Photo by Daniele Badolato - Juventus FC/Juventus FC via Getty Images

For all of Allegri’s struggles, the financial state of the club almost certainly means he’s going to get another chance — and maybe even another one after that. While I certainly possess no crystal ball, I imagine that, barring a catastrophic result like a loss to newly promoted Monza, the manager will be allowed until the World Cup break to fight for his position. Incredibly, Juventus are only four points back on league leaders Napoli, and while advancing in the Champions League seems a difficult task it’s far from impossible.

I love Max Allegri. I really do. At his best, Allegri is tactically shrewd and personably witty, a coach who has taken good sides and made them great. But something is not working right now, and that’s OK for even the staunchest Allegri supporters to admit. What’s more, that admission does not mean one cannot also believe that the players are not good enough. Even within the “Allegri out” horde, of which I am now a part, there is plenty of room to still point out that the club, regardless of the manager, is in the midst of a top-down rebuild, with plenty of units (the midfield, the fullbacks, the center backs) needing to be reconstructed, and that’s going to take time.

But despite that reality of being in a rebuild, this roster still has far more talent than the results show. If Allegri can’t maximize the resources at his disposal, or at least show some semblance of improvement, then finding a leader who can at least make the players believe would be better than infinite stagnation.

My final thought is this: more alarming than the losses, more disturbing than the lack of conviction in the players, more jarring than the complete inconsistency of the Old Lady’s play, is the lack of self-awareness in Allegri.

Speaking with the press after the Sampdoria debacle, Allegri scolded his players saying, “The thing we must never do in football is back off. ... You must never run backwards.” Yet, for the overwhelming majority of the season, and especially with a goal already deposited, that is what this club does: it runs backwards. It runs and runs and runs.

In the aftermath of the Benfica loss, Allegri repeatedly pointed to the penalty as the fulcrum that turned the game. But several minutes before, Benfica missed a wide-open header that they should have converted 9/10 times. The game had already changed, and Allegri didn’t seem to realize that. His public comments rarely square with what transpires on the pitch.

Sacking Allegri may not fix much; it may not fix anything; there’s a chance it makes things even worse. But taking a chance to find someone to spark these players, to lift their heads, and to recollect the embers of what being a Juventino stands for — this, now, is all that matters. There is no reward without risk.