MILAN (Reuters) – Juventus’s Champions League quarter-final defeat by a young Ajax Amsterdam side last month was more than just a shock result — it was a footballing lesson for the team who have dominated Serie A this season.
In particular, it was clear the Dutch side, with their pinpoint passing exchanges and relentless pressing, had one thing their Turin opponents lacked — an easily identifiable style of play.
Despite winning a fifth successive Serie A title with Juventus this season, it was no surprise when the club announced on Friday that coach Massimiliano Allegri would leave after this season, one year before the end of his contract.
Allegri, 51, has always said that winning major titles should never be underestimated, yet there was something strangely unsatisfying about this season’s campaign.
There were none of the thrilling displays served up by teams such as Manchester City or Ajax, nor the raw passion of Juergen Klopp’s Liverpool.
Instead, Juve relied on their resilience, flexibility, moments of individual brilliance from five-times World Player of the Year Cristiano Ronaldo and even, sometimes, just a lucky break.
It was enough to win them another Italian title — their eighth in a row altogether including Allegri’s five — but not enough to bring them the Champions League, which was seen as the priority after defeats in the 2015 and 2017 finals.
They also failed to win the Italian Cup this season after Allegri last term became the first manager in Europe’s top five leagues to win four consecutive doubles.
The reasons for his departure have not yet been explained, with the coach and club president Andrea Agnelli due to give a news conference on Saturday.
Maybe he was running short of motivation.
When a team dominates their national league in the way Juve have done and set the Champions League as the main target, it means the season does not effectively begin until February when the knockout stages of the European competition get underway.
Anything before that — establishing a lead at the top of the league and getting through the Champions League group stage — becomes an obligation rather than a challenge.
Gazzetta dello Sport suggested that Allegri also wanted more control over the club’s transfer policy.
Juventus splurged more than 250 million euros (£219.30 million) in the transfer market in the close season, yet more of that went on their reserve goalkeeper, Mattia Perin, than improving the midfield.
In attack, Ronaldo cost 117 million euros and winger Douglas Costa another 40 million, while at the back 40 million went on right back Joao Cancelo and 35 million on bringing back central defender Leonardo Bonucci from AC Milan.
But the midfield was not strengthened, and it showed on the pitch with too much sterile possession.
When Allegri took over five years ago, his midfield included Andrea Pirlo, Arturo Vidal and Paul Pogba.
Today, it is still an impressive lineup – Miralem Pjanic, Rodrigo Bentancur, Emre Can and Blaise Matuidi have all played for their countries. But it is not quite enough for a team with Champions League title ambitions.
Critics said that Allegri was also partly to blame, as his constant chopping and changing may have prevented the players from developing a true understanding.
Allegri’s first words after the announcement were to an Italian comedy programme.
“It took five years to build this Juve, but that’s that. Life goes around,” he said.
“I’m going home now, then I’ll have a little break by the sea. I don’t know who will follow me but Juve will choose a great coach because Juventus are a great club.”
(Writing by Brian Homewood; Editing by Ken Ferris)