Allegri delivers Coppa Italia for Juventus but exit still beckons | Nicky Bandini

by 24britishtvMay 16, 2024, noon 21
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At a certain point you started to wonder if Massimiliano Allegri would strip all the way down to his underwear. The Juventus manager had already thrown off his jacket, and then a few moments later, his tie. Now he was furiously undoing the buttons of his shirt and bellowing toward the crowd.

Juventus were moments away from winning the Coppa Italia. They had led Atalanta from the fourth minute, when Dusan Vlahovic ran beyond Isak Hien and swept a right-footed finish past Marco Carnesecchi. The Serb put the ball in the net again in the 73rd, only for this goal to be disallowed for offside.

Vlahovic and his manager were already feeling aggrieved over the non-award of a penalty when Hien bundled him over earlier in the half. A foul on Bremer in injury time seemed to tip Allegri over the edge. Sent off for screaming in the face of the fourth official, he left the sideline demanding to know: “Where is Rocchi?” (Gianluca Rocchi is the refereeing designator who selects the crews for each game.)

It is not the first time we have watched Allegri disrobe in anger. He has hurled his jacket across his technical area more often than he has claimed this trophy, and that is saying something. When the final whistle eventually went, confirming Juventus’s 1-0 win, Allegri re-emerged from the tunnel a record-breaker: the first manager ever to win the Coppa Italia five times.

Had there really been discussions before this game casting Juventus as underdogs? The most successful coach in the history of the competition leading the most decorated team? Juventus have lifted the Coppa Italia 15 times now; nobody else has reached double figures.

Yet their recent form was dismal, with no wins in their previous six games. The Bianconeri needed a 91st-minute equaliser to avoid defeat at home to relegated Salernitana on Sunday. Allegri’s popularity with supporters has been at a low ebb, and it is widely expected that the club will move on from him at the end of this campaign.

Atalanta, meanwhile, were riding the giddy highs of one of the best seasons in club history. Although one place behind Juventus in the table, they are on course for Champions League qualification and conquered Liverpool on the way to their first European final. They warmed up for this game with a 2-1 win over Roma in which they should have scored four or five.

Gian Piero Gasperini pushed back against the suggestion that this was his greatest-ever Atalanta side, reminding journalists of the group including Papu Gómez, Josip Ilicic and Duván Zapata who scored 98 goals in Serie A four seasons ago. The Bergamo club has not won a major trophy since their lone Coppa Italia triumph in 1963, but this was their third final under Gasperini in six years.

“We’re stubborn,” said the manager at his pre-game press conference. Disregarding superstition, he allowed himself to touch the trophy on display. Like the 23,000 Atalanta fans who snatched up tickets for Wednesday’s game at Rome’s Stadio Olimpico, he might have allowed himself to believe it was finally their turn.

But Vlahovic, too, has been waiting for his moment. Despite scoring 71 Serie A goals over the last four seasons and earning a €70m transfer to Juventus from Fiorentina in 2022, the striker had yet to win a major competition in Italian football. Inconsistent finishing, together with the expectations created by his price tag, have made him an easy scapegoat for underwhelming results in Turin.

He missed a chance against Salernitana almost identical to the one he scored here. A lesson learned in three days, or simply another reminder of football’s fine margins? For Vlahovic, the important part was that he got there in the end.

“I have to be honest, it’s difficult for me to speak right now,” he told CBS Sports at full time. “It’s my first trophy, I’m so emotional in this moment. But we did it. This was our objective at the start of the season: Coppa Italia and qualification for the Champions League. We did it, and we’re so happy.”

He was echoing the words Allegri, who said before kick-off: “I will repeat it till you’re bored of hearing it: our main objective this season was to get back into the Champions League.” Watching the manager undress so angrily in the dying moments of this game, it felt obvious that this was a release of tension months or even years in the making.

There are sections of Juventus’s fanbase who never warmed to Allegri even in his most successful era, winning five consecutive league titles between 2014 and 2019. They downplayed his achievements as inevitable at a club that had already won the previous three Scudetti under Antonio Conte and would claim another under Maurizio Sarri after Allegri left.

This latest chapter has been less glorious. Allegri returned in 2021 as the perceived safe choice: a familiar face who would know how to restore a winning ethos to a team that seemed to have lost it, falling to fourth under Andrea Pirlo.

But Juventus were no longer in the same place they had been through those swaggering 2010s. Decisions taken at a directorial level – including the forcing out of Beppe Marotta and a €100m gamble on Cristiano Ronaldo – had affected the club in ways not yet fully apparent. The 10-point penalty imposed for false accounting last season was the culmination of a series of poor choices.

After steering Juventus through the storm surrounding that judgment, which led the entire board to resign, Allegri might feel he is owed a little more consideration. He might even be a victim of his own success. An unexpectedly brilliant start to this season saw Juventus sit top of Serie A in late January: a pace they could not sustain.

Perhaps this cup win may yet change the story. Allegri appeared to aim hostile words at Juventus’s football director, Cristiano Giuntoli, as he celebrated on Wednesday, though he later insisted that “nothing happened”. Hired from last season’s champions, Napoli, to provide the club with a new direction, Giuntoli has publicly stayed tight-lipped about the manager’s future.

It will be no surprise if he does choose to bring in his own man, with a shared vision for the club’s next steps. There has been a lack of clarity in recent times about what Juventus are aiming for: a quick return to the glory years or the creation of a more sustainable model promoting the talent they develop through their NextGen team, currently fighting for promotion to Serie B (albeit with a top scorer, Simone Guerra, who turns 35 this year).

However Juventus proceed, Allegri can rightly feel he is owed some gratitude for delivering another trophy and restoring Champions League revenue streams. Perhaps Giuntoli ought to thank Gasperini, too. It was Atalanta’s win over Roma that mathematically sealed Juventus’s qualification.

The Bergamo club are close to qualifying as well now, and still have a chance to end this season with a trophy of their own. All they have to do is beat a Bayer Leverkusen team that is undefeated in 50 games.

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