He won Serie A in his first season at AC Milan. He finished a close second to an unbeaten Juventus in his second season. His side boasted the tightest defense in the league in his first season and possessed the most lethal attack in his second season. Why would Massimiliano Allegri deserve the sack, then?
Statistics might favour the tactician. Results might as well. But I think both of these need to be seen in context.
Serie A was particularly poor in 2010/11. The management strategically strengthened the squad to win the league by capturing the signatures of Kevin-Prince Boateng, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Robinho in the summer, whilst adding Mark van Bommel, Antonio Cassano and Urby Emanuelson to the squad in the winter (the latter three being cup-tied to play in Europe). Milan sat atop the table from October and never slipped thereafter. Juventus fizzled, Inter stuttered and Roma were lacklustre. Milan strolled to the title withstanding any form of serious competition from the usual lot.
2011/12 was all about Zlatan Ibrahimovic. His presence up top made the difference between a defeat and a draw, a draw and a win. While the rest of the core rusted at an alarming rate, the Swede consistently chalked out inspirational performances. Amidst injuries, Milan took the fight to Juventus, a team currently on a 42-match unbeaten streak in Serie A. How much of this was down to Allegri’s tactics? For someone having watched Milan every week during Allegri’s tenure as Milan coach, I will admit that the ‘give-the-ball-to-Ibra-and-hope-something-happens’ tactic worked very well. A dogged midfield and an uncreative Boateng implied the creative-fulcrum of the team would be Ibrahimovic; a man vested with the responsibility to score goals as well. It worked, because Ibrahimovic relished the burden.
But off-the-pitch cognitive work, namely tactics, frequently worked against Max. He was often criticised for making delayed substitutions. His rigid 4-3-1-2 has rarely seen the face of change, consequentially succumbing to teams that excel in wing-play (Arsenal 3-0, Barcelona 3-1, Juventus 2-1, Totenham 1-0, Madrid 2-0). His unreasonable decision to persist with playing Boateng as a trequartista (12 goals, 7 assists in 65 games) or Emanuuelson as a central midfielder, despite their failure to perform in these positions, was met with widespread criticism. But Max refused to alter his staunch belief in his unorthodox ways. He still refuses to.
Max loves his dynamic midfielders. A look at his last season with Cagliari would reveal a roster full of box-to-box midfielders. He brought that system to Milan, which admittedly worked initially, but has progressively become stale. Milan have ball-winners, but none of these are adept at opening up defences with decisive passes or vision. Ibrahimovic’s blatant skill often saved Allegri’s blushes, but ever since Paris-Saint Germain FC escorted the ‘legend’ away from the San Siro, Allegri has looked clueless and short of ideas.
His desperation to cling onto his favored formation, shoe-horning players into positions which do not suit them in order to play ‘his-way’ is intolerable, especially when the team is not achieving the desired results. Starting Nigel de Jong and Massimo Ambrosini at home against Atalanta, or substituting Emanuelson for Kevin Constant with Bojan on the bench against Anderlecht, with the team needing a goal, , are two among many mind-boggling decisions.
Allegri appears to be hiding behind the perceived mediocrity of the squad, throwing his arms up in his defense implying his innocence, laying the blame down to ‘squad morale’. It isn’t quite that simple. With the players that have left, with those who have arrived and those that have stayed, Milan are not equipped to play a 4-3-1-2 anymore.
The squad has more attacking potential down the wings. Bojan, Stephan El Shaarawy, Ignazio Abate, Emanuelson, Robinho and Pato are completely capable of thriving down the flanks. More importantly, Giampaolo Pazzini loves meeting the ball with his head, not as a target man, but as a poacher. To tap into his potential, wingers should float crosses into the box. Moreover, in the absence of creativity through the centre, a team must create from the wings. But Allegri’s sheer refusal to even attempt a change of system is frustrating for the viewer.
Allegri’s misery is compounded in Europe, as he steps into the Champions League for the third season running. For a club besotted with the idea of associating itself in the latter stages of the competition, Allegri’s record (5-8-6) is hardly inspiring. Allegri has dropped points against Viktoria Plzen, BATE Borisov and more recently Anderlecht playing horrendous football.
Milan have become ‘boring’, an adjective used rather loosely in football. However, in Milan’s case this season, the adjective is apt. The squad isn’t good, but it isn’t as poor as its being portrayed. There is sufficient quality in the side to put up a display of watchable soccer, if the players are played in positions that naturally suit them. A continuation of this nonsense Allegri is passing off as football will only prove to have damaging effects on the club’s identity and its revenue. Sponsors will shun Milan and the international audience could become disconnected if the media pulls the plug on telecasting games.
As I see it, and hopefully as you would, Allegri has problems which can be resolved, if he chooses to. Unless he bends over backwards, adopts a different approach and discards the adamant attitude, Milan will only sink further down the table, creating a distinct brand of distasteful football which would inevitably drive fans away. Better get rid of him before the consequences strike the club like a tsunami.
Follow Rajath Kumar on Twitter: @rajathkumar and be sure to check out his AC Milan blog as well.