When the first comments from Matthijs de Ligt comparing the training regimens of Juventus and Bayern Munich happened, it sounded a little like an unnecessary shot at his former team. When Bayern coach Julian Naglesman piled on to that, it sounded like a completely unnecessary shot at the coaching staff of another club.
But then the same subject came up from another ex-Juve player on the other side of Europe, and now it’s beginning to look like there’s actually some smoke here.
It would stand to reason that Dejan Kulusevski would have more intense training sessions at Tottenham Hotspur than he would have had at Juve. After all, his coach is Antonio Conte, who is notorious for training sessions so intense that they border on maniacal. And while Kulusevski was answering a direct question about the differences between Conte and Massimiliano Allegri, the young Swede’s answer didn’t mince words.
“We work hard every day, more than I did in Italy,” he told Gazzetta dello Sport. “I love the way we work here in London. Surely it is the coach’s merit ... we work much more in the gym and the results are there.”
That jives with things that de Ligt has said since he joined Bayern. In remarks to Sky Sport Italia after Bayern’s 2-0 win over Inter in the Champions League earlier this month, the Dutchman tried to make his earlier statements more clear, saying “Both training regimes are hard, but in Italy it’s more about tactics and systems, less intensity and above all less sprinting.”
Again, hearing that isn’t necessarily a huge surprise. Tactics are king in Italy, to the point where I think it’s one of the biggest reasons young players aren’t often trusted to play major minutes. But what moves this from mildly annoying criticisms from former players to a potentially serious issue is that de Ligt and Kulusevski both highlighted the difference in physical intensity and conditioning work.
Combine that with some of the things we’ve seen this season, and that sends up a major red flag.
During Juve’s horrific start to the 2022-23 season, games have usually gone one of two ways: either the team never shows up to begin with, or they come out of the gate like gangbusters only to drop off the table as the game goes on. While there have been exceptions — notably the 2-1 loss to Paris Saint-Germain game, where the script was flipped and Juve took advantage of their opponents dropping off to get back into the match — the latter scenario has been rather costly this year. We’ve seen it in games Juve has drawn, like the Roma game where Juve dominated the first half but failed to put the Giallorossi away before fading away in the second half, in games they’ve lost, like the Benfica game, which Juve dropped away even earlier, after only about 20 minutes before being utterly dominated the rest of the way. Even in games that they won, like the match against Spezia, they started with an early surge before being forced to hang on for dear life until they were able to seal the game in stoppages.
This has been a disturbing trend, and it can be explained one of two ways:
- Allegri drops off tactically as the game goes on, especially when in the lead, or ...
- There is a serious conditioning problem at Juve.
That’s a weird thing. A few years ago, Patrice Evra talked at length on Sky Sports in the UK about how intense the training was during his time at the club — all of which came under Allegri. Now, his former players are saying the exact opposite about his training sessions and Juve are having serious problems staying in games physically.
So what’s changed? There are a couple of possibilities.
The first is that Allegri is deliberately easing off in training. Given how condensed the fixture list is this season due to the World Cup being in the winter, he could be trying to limit the load on the players with less taxing training sessions. The same could also be true of a reaction to the injury situation, which seems like it’s been at crisis levels for months now. With a limited number of players available, could Allegri be trying to limit their workload in order to prevent even more from causing problems. If either of these turn out to be the case, Allegri clearly needs to adjust his view, because Juve’s physical condition and frequent in-game drop-offs are clearly becoming big issues.
Then, of course, there’s another possibility: that training methods, like seemingly everything else about the game since his return to the team, have simply passed him by. It could be that the newer wave of coaches like Naglesman simply expect a different level of physical conditioning that Allegri, like so many other things in his second tenure, simply refuses to bring the team to simply because he’s stuck in his old ways. Is it even possible that Juve’s injury problems are the result of a training regimen that simply isn’t building up a resistance to muscle problems?
Lastly, there’s perhaps the most disturbing option of all: that Allegri’s simply gone soft. The Allegri that we’ve seen so far in his second tenure is clearly a changed man. That devolution into a more timid coach has its roots in the 2016-17 Champions League final in Cardiff. It didn’t happen all at once, but ever since that second half at the Millennium Stadium he has slowly turned into a far more reactive manager who, frankly, coaches scared. Could that same attitude have crept into how he handles things on the training pitches? It’s not out of the realm of possibility.
It’s impossible to tell which option is the one that actually applies — or if there’s something else going on that I simply haven’t thought of. But one thing is clear: other teams in Europe are doing things differently — and that’s showing in the results.