No Conte for Old Lady: Allegri in as triple champs change coach
It's the sort of thing that doesn't happen much anymore, in a world of off-the-record briefings, planned leaks and social-media speculation. On Tuesday evening, without a hint of speculation or insight anywhere, Juventus coach Antonio Conte resigned by mutual consent.
Somehow, despite seemingly everyone in the world of football claiming an inside source or someone ‘in the know’, Italy's biggest club managed to keep quiet the fact that their triple-title-winning manager was leaving with immediate effect.
The after-effects of the 44-year-old stepping down will not truly be known until September 1, when the transfer window closes and the 2014/15 season begins. Before that date, what happens to the squad of players Conte has left behind is a huge unknown, with the arrivals and departures in Turin now impossible to predict.
Seemingly unable to continue in the role, the former club captain has reneged on his promise to honour the final year of his contract, a vow he found it difficult to make at the end of last season. Having overseen the greatest campaign in Serie A history – setting a new points record along the way – he had appeared to find motivation difficult by May.
Perhaps swayed by a huge outpouring of affection from the fans at the final home game – one banner played on the fact "Con te" means "With you" – Conte decided to stay with the club he has supported since childhood.
On Monday he returned to pre-season training; the news of his departure surfaced around 7.45pm the following day, and became official just over 10 minutes later. That it did so in a pre-recorded interview with the Juventus Channel – and with the coach in full club apparel – was odd, as was the immediately subsequent publication of an open letter from the club president thanking Conte.
In the interview, Conte appeared a broken man, a shell of the highly-driven, pathological winner who had completely transformed the club over the previous three years. While speculation linked his exit to the futures of key players like Arturo Vidal and Paul Pogba, the decision appeared far more personal than professional.
“Listening to the coach’s words,” said Gianluigi Buffon in a press conference – the goalkeeper also apparently having been well aware of the situation before the general public – “I think the reasons were within himself and nothing to do with the club.”
Perhaps Conte realised he couldn't go much further. After all, Juventus lost just 15 of his 151 games, and went his entire first Serie A campaign undefeated. But while dominating the domestic scene, he has struggled to see how the club can compete with the likes of Real Madrid and Bayern Munich.
Rightly or wrongly, Conte has constantly railed against the poor financial status of Juventus, telling a press conference last year that "when you have €10 in your pocket you can't eat in a restaurant where the meal will cost you €100!"
His analogy hints at just how far the Bianconeri are behind the truly giant clubs in Europe. He refused to answer questions on whether he may take up the vacant managerial position with the Italian national team, but far more pressing matters lie ahead for Juventus.
Less than 12 hours after the news first broke, the club which has won the league title in each of the last three years was looking very different than it had before Conte’s announcement. Moves for Juan Manuel Iturbe and Patrice Evra went on hold due to reservations surrounding a replacement on the bench, only for the Bianconeri to make another stunning revelation.
At a Wednesday press conference, the grand Old Lady of Italian football presented her new leading man: Massimiliano Allegri. The same Allegri who, having helped oversee the worst domestic campaign in Milan’s recent history, was unceremoniously fired. While he clearly made mistakes himself – such as some bizarre tactical selections and his request for Alessandro Matri – Allegri was obviously hamstrung by the San Siro suits.
Milan were a mess and Allegri was the most convenient scapegoat, but his appointment at Juventus brings with it almost as many questions as it does answers. How could the club move so quickly if Conte’s resignation was such a shock? What next for Andrea Pirlo, a man ostracised by Allegri at Milan but now expected to play for someone who clearly believed his best days were behind him?
The first of those is something we may never know, but that is almost always the way with such situations. The latter is a matter for the pair to settle themselves, both hopefully mature enough to move beyond it and help continue the resurgence of Juventus so evident since May 2010, when Andrea Agnelli took control of the club formerly run by his father, uncle and grandfather.
It is also too soon to gauge what this may mean for the futures of Pogba and Vidal, though it is difficult to imagine Juventus feeling able to sell either, given the volatile reaction from supporters already. Losing their two greatest playing assets as well as a brilliant manager would surely risk a serious uprising in the stands, something the club can ill-afford given the delicate position it has found itself in.
With fans believing the Allegri appointment shows a distinct lack of ambition, Buffon once again perfectly expressed the consensus, telling reporters that the club "have lost the emblem of our renaissance." Considering Juve finished seventh in the two seasons before Conte’s arrival, it's hard to argue with that assessment, although president Agnelli was equally right in his letter of thanks.
“Juventus must continue their journey,” he wrote and of course they must, but without Antonio Conte to steer them, it will be a very different voyage indeed.