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50-50 Challenge: AC Milan vs. Juventus

Preview Sep 19, 2014
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Round of 16

#UltimateUCL Sep 10, 2014
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 Posted by James Horncastle
Jul 18, 2014

Allegri needs to fix Pirlo relationship

FC's Tommy Smyth and Steve Nicol discuss the appointment of Massimiliano Allegri at Juventus and how he will get along with Andrea Pirlo whom he coached at AC Milan.

On Italy's plane back from Brazil, Andrea Pirlo got up from his seat and called the media over. He had an announcement to make.

The hirsute playmaker was prepared to reconsider his plans to retire from international football. He didn't want the Azzurri's elimination from the group stages of the World Cup to be the final chapter of his career in blue. Pirlo instead wished to go out on a high, not a low. So he was willing to make himself eligible for selection for the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign.

There was a catch, though. It would depend on who the FIGC appointed as the new Italy coach following the resignation of Cesare Prandelli.

"If the CT [Commissario Tecnico] were to ask me to come back, I would give my availability," Pirlo explained.

At the time, the favourites for the job were Massimiliano Allegri and Roberto Mancini. It didn't take a cryptographer to work out what Pirlo was saying. The message behind his words seemed clear. As far as the 35-year-old was concerned if Allegri got it, in all likelihood he wouldn't be representing his country again. He wouldn't play for him.

Now Pirlo will have to.

Antonio Conte left his position as Juventus coach on Tuesday evening. Allegri was named in his place on Wednesday morning. It came as an [unpleasant] surprise to many fans. No other coach divides opinion in Italy quite like Allegri even if within the game itself he is held in high regard.

Sassuolo's rise through the divisions started with him. His first season in Serie A began with five straight defeats at Cagliari but concluded with them finishing higher than they'd done in nearly 15 years. It persuaded Allegri's peers to vote him Coach of the Year ahead of a certain Jose Mourinho.

Then at Milan he duly delivered the Scudetto in his first season. At the time, only one coach in Serie A history had achieved that feat at a younger age [Mancini]. He broke Inter's five-year dominance at the top of the league. For the first time since 2004, the year Milan had last won the title, they did the double over their rivals in the Derby della Madonnina.

Allegri's star was in the ascendancy. He was in a position of genuine strength. But a fateful decision he shared in the making of would change that in one fell swoop. Allegri has never been able to live it down. He didn't push Milan to bend their rule of offering one-year rolling contracts to the players on the squad aged 30 or over for Pirlo. He didn't plead with chief executive Adriano Galliani to make an exception.

After all, the club was restarting an austerity policy they'd already enacted before the Ibrahimovic and Robinho buys. They could no longer afford Pirlo's 6 million euros a year net wages.

Massimiliano Allegri and Andrea Pirlo's rocky relationship was started by the manager marginalizing the player at AC Milan.

It must be said that it also suited Galliani that -- as had been the case with Ronaldinho in the winter -- Pirlo had become a peripheral figure under Allegri and they had won the league without him. Pirlo had made only 12 appearances all season. Injuries had played their part in limiting his game-time but also in creating the impression he was perhaps in decline. The veteran players either side of Pirlo -- Massimo Ambrosini and Rino Gattuso, both no longer able to get around and protect him as they had done in the past - probably added to it.

And that formed Allegri's [misguided] conviction that Pirlo could no longer play in front of the defence.

He thought opponents were by now wise to him and that he should try a change of position to the left of midfield. His markers wouldn't expect that. But Pirlo didn't take too kindly to it.

"If the sea's deep, a fish can breathe. If you put him just under the surface, he'll get by, but it's not the same thing," he wrote in his biography.

He found the idea that he couldn't be Pirlo any more difficult to accept. Seeing Ambrosini play in his position for the first half of the season and then January signing Mark van Bommel was of great disillusion.

"My house had been broken into by friends, not out of badness but ransacked all the same. I'd been evicted from my much-loved garden, with its patchy grass and bald spots."

Juventus offered him a three-year deal. And so after a decade at San Siro, Pirlo bid a tearful farewell. It was the hinge on which the balance of power swung in Serie A. Juventus have won Serie A every year since. Galliani and Allegri were made to look like fools, their reputations tarnished, though they had their reasons -- pressure from above to impose cuts and the justification of a championship winning team sans the influence of Pirlo. La Scala del Calcio lost the conductor of its orchestra and from then on it has been a symphony of decay at Milan.

The music they made under Allegri hurt the eardrums. Violins were replaced by the din of pots and pans [because Milan couldn't afford anything else]. And yet, had Sulley Muntari's goal against Juventus been allowed, had Thiago Silva not relapsed [after Allegri rushed him back from injury] and Ibrahimovic not got suspended so often in the spring, they might have retained their title.

Instead Milan relinquished it to a Pirlo-inspired Juventus side with a great new coach, new stadium and without European commitments. No sooner had Allegri's cycle opened then it closed with a bang. Thiago Silva and Ibra were sold. Alessandro Nesta, Clarence Seedorf, Gattuso and Pippo Inzaghi all walked off into the sunset.

Allegri, the aziendalista or company man, came to terms with it and led the team to third, an achievement more impressive than when he led Milan to the Scudetto.

Now back on the sidelines with Juventus, Massimiliano Allegri will need to mend things with Andrea Pirlo in order to be successful with the Turin-based club.

Roma made him first choice to replace caretaker Aurelio Andreazzoli that summer ahead of Walter Mazzarri and Rudi Garcia, only for Allegri to come to a compromise with Silvio Berlusconi and stay at Milan [until his dismissal this spring]. As mentioned before he was the frontrunner to replace Prandelli on the Italy bench and is now in charge of Juventus. Question his track record all you want, but it's clear that key decision-makers within the game in Italy rate him.

Allegri has made mistakes. One imagines, however, he has learned from them, no more so than the colossal error of judgement he made with Pirlo. He will be grateful for the chance to put it right. "I'm fortunate to find him again after three years," he said. "I never put his quality up for discussion, otherwise they'd take me for a madman."

As a consummate professional, Pirlo is expected to let bygones be bygones. Mindful of his past with Allegri, Galatasaray reportedly made an opportunistic inquiry on behalf of Prandelli to find out whether or not he would consider a move. Juventus told them: 'no'.

Pirlo just signed a new two-year contract only last month on the understanding that he would play regularly. That will have been impressed upon Allegri. One of the new manager's first acts of diplomacy has supposedly been to hold clear the air talks with Pirlo and reassure him that he is quite literally central to his plans.

Will all be forgiven and forgotten? If not, Juventus fans' anger will probably be channeled at president Andrea Agnelli and general manager Beppe Marotta for selecting a coach whose previous with one of their star players appeared to rule out his appointment in the first place. The timing of Conte's departure a day after preseason began left them in a tough place but still. How it all plays out, promises to be one of the storylines of the season.


James Horncastle

James Horncastle is a European Football writer who contributes to ESPN, BBC Sport, Guardian Football Weekly, FourFourTwo and The Blizzard. You can follow him on twitter @JamesHorncastle