It was a dreadful wait for all Juventini in the world. The anxiety was completely overwhelming. After Antonio Conte, former defensive midfielder whose name is immortalised at the Walk of Fame at Juventus Stadium, decided to step down from the managerial post following three years of what can only be described as a glorious stint, who could possibly be his successor?
The disagreement between Conte and Juventus’ board of directors regarding how the club was being run finally reached the culmination point. Conte might have given three scudetti in a row but the team’s European performances were far from pleasing, and it really angered him. Being a European champion himself, reaching a Champions League quarter-final and a Europa League semi-final certainly weren’t enough for him. Those disappointing performances, according to Conte, were because of the amount of money The Old Lady spent on transfers – or lack thereof.
You can’t come to a €100 restaurant when you’ve only got €10 in your pocket. That’s the analogy Conte used to picture the situation he faced as Juventus’ manager. Conte wanted big spending like what the other 'cool kids' in Europe have, but too that’s not something Juventus can provide. At least not in the near future. And that's what exhausted his patience.
The life after Conte was something all Juventini were afraid of. The comfort zone that Conte provided during his era was no longer there. Of course, Conte is no Alex Ferguson who spent almost three decades at Manchester United, but still, with too many possibilities, it was scary. Back then, the prospect of life after Conte didn’t seem so bright at all. Well, how could it?
When Conte arrived in 2011, Juventus were a shambles. They’d been trying to recover since calciopoli hit them hard back in 2006. Five years since calciopoli and not a single title was won. Conte was a very bold choice, though, since he'd never managed any big club before that. But it turned out, that bold choice paid off.
At the beginning of his reign, Conte wanted to play an attractive attacking football with his ideal formation, 4-2-4. It didn’t work because first, Juventus didn’t (and still don’t) have any decent wingers, and second, they already had three very good central midfielders in Claudio Marchisio, Andrea Pirlo, and Arturo Vidal. In order to acommodate the three of them, clearly 4-2-4, with only two central midfielders, wasn’t an option.
At first, Conte would insist to start a game with his 4-2-4 formation but in the second half, he changed it to 3-5-2. This happened several times at the beginning of the season before finally Conte settled with 3-5-2 and that formation became his main – and probably only – option. Conte dominated Italy with this formation but in Europe, this formation seemed to be too weak to contain those quicky wingers they had to play against.
Sometimes, like when Juventus played Real Madrid last season, Conte switched to 4-3-1-2 to try and contain those pacey wingers, but since Juventus weren’t used to it, they seemed unable to execute the plan properly. In the end, Juventus under Conte became the same old Juventus. A footballing tyrant in Italy, but a pariah in Europe. So Conte left, because he couldn’t afford being a loser amongst the big boys.
The vacuum of power at Juventus’ managerial post was a horrid period. At that time, Juventus had to lose to Roma in the race for Juan Manuel Iturbe and it was so frustrating. Iturbe was Juventus’ main target since they’d been longing for a quality winger for quite some time, and in the end, Roma, who finished the previous season as runner-ups, won the race for the Argentinian prodigy.
And then it got worse. To replace Antonio Conte, the board of directors made a really terrible choice: Massimiliano Allegri. He was Juventini’s favourite mockery target, not only because he was Juventus’ arch rival and AC Milan’s former manager, but also because his last season at Rossoneri was so terrible that it became so entertaining for Juventini. Can you imagine how it felt to be a Juventino when the person you loved to mock became the person in charge of your favourite club?
A massive protest was held at Vinovo, Juventus’ training ground, following this appointment. Even before that fans witnessed how Allegri’s team would play, they already opposed the decision. For all they knew, Allegri was a clown and he didn’t deserve to succeed one of the best managers Juventus ever had. It was a fair assessment, though, back then. Allegri’s CV was badly stained by his sacking from AC Milan 18 months before he was appointed at Juventus.
Ten months have gone by since that day in Vinovo and Allegri, the unwanted clown, is now on the verge of giving The Old Lady the most precious gift someone can possibly give: a treble. Not even the great Marcello Lippi could do this for Juventus, mind you. Allegri has certainly taken Juventus to the next level. After Conte built the strong foundation, Allegri is now trying to build a skyscraper.
So what is the difference between Conte and Allegri? What makes Allegri’s team perform better than Conte’s? Is Allegri simply a better coach than Conte?
To answer the question, let’s take a look at these statements from Claudio Marchisio that appeared from earlier this season.
“Allegri has made us understand that we will not dwell on a single formation - we have a list of quality that allows us to change identity during the game. With Conte everything was more planned and the results speak for themselves - three League titles in a row and two Super Cups. Now it is different, Allegri has a different idea of the game, as we saw against Milan (at Trofeo TIM).”
“We work mainly on the possession of the ball. In Europe it works well, we saw it again last year when we faced teams with little to them - they played safe football, whilst we had some difficulties. This is the most important step to be taken.”
“And will this improved imagination be best felt in Europe? Definitely. We often speak of our failure in Europe, but the first year we went out against Bayern and last time we threw away qualification against Galatasaray.”
As we already know, Conte didn’t always bother to tinker. When his 3-5-2 worked, he wouldn’t need a reason to change it unless for “extreme” situation like facing last season’s Champions League winners, Real Madrid. Conte would approach every game with same exact style and force the opponents to deal with it.
Meanwhile, Allegri is quite the tinkerer. Thus far, there have been three different formations that Allegri’s used: 3-5-2 – like the old days, 4-3-1-2 – his own personal favorite, and 4-3-3 – mostly when nothing really matters like the game against Cagliari when the Serie A title is already in their hands. Under Allegri, Juventus are also better on the counter-attack, something we rarely saw under Conte.
Although Allegri’s tinkering plays the big part, the transfer also helps. Patrice Evra and Alvaro Morata turned out to be very formidable players. Evra who came on a free transfer from Manchester United was highly doubted because his last season at Old Trafford didn’t go very well. Morata, on the other hand, is a very talented forward, but he was unproven. Also, he didn’t come in on the cheap. The deal was pretty expensive by Serie A standards, €20million, and when he suffered a pretty bad injury which kept him sidelined long enough, the worries seemed to be so real.
Only, it wasn’t. The worries for Evra and Morata are finally proven to be unreasonable. Apparently, the trauma inflicted by Alessio Secco – Giuseppe Marotta’s predecessor – is pretty hard to be rid of. Evra, being the only natural left full-back (before Paolo De Ceglie was summoned back in January) there is, apparently still has a lot to give, and Morata has now become a new favourite especially after his two goals against Real Madrid at Champions League semi-final took Juventus to the final.
Compared to Fernando Llorente, who came last season with Carlos Tevez, Morata is more flexible. He can dribble, his pace is pretty good, and his physique is well-built too. He’s the out and out striker Juventus have been looking for. Partnered with Carlitos upfront, this dynamic duo have been terrorising opponents’ defences this season. The partnership also helps bring out the best in Tevez who’s now leading the Serie A goalscoring table.
The absence of Andrea Barzagli for most of the season also brought out the best in Leonardo Bonucci who couldn’t escape responsibility as one of Juventus’ starting centre-back. Partnered with experienced Giorgio Chiellini, this ball-playing defender has finally shown the world that he’s no longer that lame center-back who cannot play in four-men defense system.
It’s still going to take two more games for Allegri and Juventus to achieve a treble. It’s not an easy task, of course, but with everything that’s been going on with them this season, there is no reason for them not to win every title possible. Lazio, Juventus’ opponents at the Coppa Italia final, are certainly no pushovers, and Barcelona will pose various dangerous threats for them at the Champions League final, but there is no reason for Juventus to back down. Besides, this treble, especially the Champions League trophy, would be the best gift Juventus can give to their legendary custodian, Gigi Buffon. All the more reason to give it all for these two last games.
By Yoga Cholandha - @ rel="nofollow"