Serie A bosses with points to prove: Mourinho, Allegri, Inzaghi, Sarri
Jose Mourinho has one last chance to show he’s still the manager of old, Max Allegri can continue his Juventus love affair with another Scudetto and no one envies Simone Inzaghi’s task at Inter… the Serie A bosses with points to prove this season
- Several big-name players have left Italy this summer, including Romelu Lukaku
- Serie A looks shorn of genuine prestige and star quality – at least on the pitch
- But it could be the most captivating and engrossing managerial line-up in Europe
- Mourinho, Allegri, Inzaghi, Maurizio Sarri and Luciano Spalletti are a stellar cast
- Not forgetting Atalanta boss Gian Piero Gasperini and AC Milan’s Stefano Pioli
- Before the new season starts, Sportsmail looks at tasks facing the bosses
Fans of Italian football probably watched the aftermath of this summer’s European Championship with a warm glow of contentment about the state of Italian football, at least at international level.
But the domestic game has been rocked by several big-name departures, namely Gianluigi Donnarumma to Paris Saint-Germain, Achraf Hakimi to the same club and Romelu Lukaku to Chelsea.
The undisputed prize jewel in Serie A’s crown, Cristiano Ronaldo, could well be on his way out of Juventus too, potentially leaving Italy’s top-division shorn of genuine prestige and star quality, at least under the age of 34.
Despite a promising generation coming through, Gianluigi Buffon (43), Zlatan Ibrahimovic (39), Giorgio Chiellini (37), Leonardo Bonucci (34) and Olivier Giroud (34) lead a cast of players in Italy not exactly in the prime of their careers.
On the other hand, it could be the most captivating and engrossing managerial line-up in Europe, with plenty of stellar names vying for superiority in the dugouts; Fabio Capello called it ‘the championship of the coaches’ in the Gazzetto dello Sport.
Jose Mourinho looking to bounce back from Tottenham failure at Roma, Max Allegri returning to rebuild Juventus, Simone Inzaghi aiming to retain Inter’s first title in a decade after Antonio Conte’s exit, and plenty more besides… so below, Sportsmail looks at the colourful contenders before the new season starts this weekend.
New Roma boss Jose Mourinho leads a stellar cast of managers with a point to prove in Italy
JOSE MOURINHO – ROMA
Few figures in football generate the headlines, the clicks or mania like Mourinho. He famously arrived at Chelsea christening himself the ‘Special One’, and lived up to that previous billing during his stint in Italy thanks to a historic treble at Inter Milan.
As the All or Nothing: Tottenham Hotspur series proved, he still has an aura, charisma in bucketloads and unshakeable self-belief. But critics say that’s all he has left. Is he just a traditional, old-school manager incongruous with the modern era?
Since his halcyon days at Inter he has left Real Madrid and Chelsea (again), was sacked by Manchester United and Tottenham, and would be hard pushed to say he left any of those teams in a better position than he found them.
Admittedly, he overachieved in leading an imbalanced United squad to second in the Premier League, plus a Europa League and League Cup title, and inherited structural problems at Spurs, who have not won a major trophy for circa 13-and-a-half years.
Former Chelsea striker Tammy Abraham (right) will lead the line after Edin Dzeko’s departure
The Portuguese would also insist he has mellowed in his old age. ‘I won’t be the one looking for trouble,’ he vowed in his first press conference at Roma. ‘I don’t have time for that. I have more experience now, so I am more solid emotionally.’
He subsequently mouthed off at Inter, Antonio Conte and numerous others, showing his feather-ruffling skills are still near-unrivalled. ‘It’s all the drama…I just love it,’ said Pam from Gavin and Stacey, and presumably Mourinho as well.
On the playing side, goalkeeper Pau Lopez was jettisoned for Wolves’ Rui Patricio, with Robin Olsen, Federico Fazio, Alessandro Florenzi, Davide Santon, Javier Pastore and Steven Nzonzi cut from the first-team and Edin Dzeko and Pedro sold on frees.
But with hotshot former Chelsea striker Tammy Abraham leading the line, expect Roma to be there or thereabouts come the end of the season. If Roma fail to finish in the top four, then the argument that Mourinho is a has been will only strengthen.
MASSIMILIANO ALLEGRI – JUVENTUS
Never go back, sang Israeli musician Dennis Lloyd. Juventus clearly weren’t listening at the time, though, as they responded to the relative lack of success after Massimiliano Allegri by hiring… Massimiliano Allegri.
Despite only sneaking into fourth place and the Champions League on the final day, the Old Lady look a much stronger title bet for this season based on the 54-year-old’s return.
His hair is a little thinner, but make no mistake – he is still a serious coach and a serial winner. Five consecutive titles may have given Juventus delusions that the league title was theirs forever, regardless of who was in charge. Wrong.
Maurizio Sarri did win the Scudetto but won few friends at the club, and Andrea Pirlo was promoted to the first team just nine days after being hired for his first ever coaching job as U23 manager. The less said about his tenure, the better.
Massimiliano Allegri has returned to Juventus to try to take them back to former title glories
Allegri will have to manage forward Cristiano Ronaldo, who has been linked with a move away
Sarri and Pirlo, were idealistic, experimental, arguably naive picks, based on an aspiration to play better football. But they lost the title last year to end their run of nine championships, and that can’t run. So Allegri, and his pragmatism, is back.
He is a straight talker, highly respected by squad members, and brings a winning mentality. Iconic coach Arrigo Sacchi said: ‘Allegri knows how to win. He knows the roads that lead to victory.’
Finances are tight – the only major signing Manuel Locatelli, on a two-year loan from Sassuolo with an obligation to buy, to allow them time to spread the purchase cost – and star forward Cristiano Ronaldo has been heavily linked with a move away.
Moreover, Ronaldo may not react too kindly to his game time being curtailed. But if there’s one man who can manage him and pull off another title, it’s Allegri.
SIMONE INZAGHI – INTER MILAN
‘I know there will be difficulties’. Not exactly an auspicious beginning for Inter Milan fans hoping for optimism in new manager Simone Inzaghi’s first press conference, but at least an honest one. He wasn’t wrong; there have been difficulties.
Antonio Conte led Inter to break Juventus’ long run of titles last season, but things will be much harder now. Conte? Gone. Star player Lukaku? Gone. Christian Eriksen may never play football again. Inzaghi has problems to solve and big shoes to fill.
Classy wing-back Achraf Hakimi was sold to PSG, but was replaced by Netherlands’ Euro 2020 star Denzel Dumfries. Harder to replace will be £98million talisman, top scorer, divisional MVP Lukaku. Inzaghi tried to stop the move, but couldn’t.
Simone Inzaghi will have to contend with the loss of key striker Romelu Lukaku to Chelsea
The departure of Achraf Hakimi was expected – but Lukaku’s exit was an unpleasant surprise
Dumfries, full-back Matteo Darmian and 22-year-old Belgian defender Zinho Vanheusden have been their only major signings so far. Dzeko has come in from Roma on a two-year deal, but is 35 and is unlikely to play every game.
However, some initial signs are positive. Ciro Immobile compared Inzaghi’s motivational skills to Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp’s and Stefan de Vrij, who worked under him at Lazio, praised his ability to foster a ‘great atmosphere’ among players.
He plays 3-5-2, like Inter did last season, and is not a prolific spender, which is key given Inter’s financial struggles. The on- and off-pitch turmoil means Inter are only dark horses for the title race, but Inzaghi means they’re at least at the starting line.
MAURIZIO SARRI – LAZIO
The cerebral, eccentric Sarri could make it an explosive Rome derby this year. Sarri v Mourinho, wow.
The chain-smoker is well acquainted with controversy and does not shy away from confrontation, once flicking V-signs at Juventus supporters, which was a factor in the fans never really taking to him despite his Serie A title.
Chelsea fans weren’t so keen either, despite a Europa League trophy with the Blues. However, Lazio seem to have welcomed him with open arms, hoping the great tactical thinker can lead them to new heights.
Maurizio Sarri was not universally popular at Juventus or Chelsea but is now installed at Lazio
Gonzalo Escalante (centre) has admitted the players are still getting used to Sarri’s demands
Sure, the Lazio squad is nowhere near as strong as his last two teams. But his successful Napoli side was unheralded too.
Argentine midfielder Gonzalo Escalante has admitted the team is getting used to his ‘2000km per hour’, anti-long ball style of play.
They could be up there with Atalanta as the division’s great entertainers if he can work his Napoli magic on Lazio too.
LUCIANO SPALLETTI – NAPOLI
A rare sight it is to see a manager happy without a single buy. More important for Napoli, to be fair, is retaining their strong spine – Kalidou Koulibaly, Fabian Ruiz, Lorenzo Insigne. ‘I wanted to chain myself to all of the players,’ he laughed in July.
Gennaro Gattuso won the Coppa Italia here, and although they were overtaken on the last day by Juventus following a disappointing draw against Verona, narrowly missing out on the Champions League, the nucleus of the Napoli side is strong.
Dries Mertens is belying his age, Piotr Zielinski is underrated and electric forward Victor Osimhen could be this campaign’s breakout star.
And the manager? Spalletti, 62, has been away for two years, has zero Italian league titles, and has not won a major trophy in Italy since Roma’s Coppa Italia in 2008. But he is a forward-thinking coach and a popular man, although not to be trifled with.
Napoli manager Luciano Spalletti will have to keep club president Aurelio De Laurentiis happy
De Laurentiis (pictured) may be forced to sell several players before the transfer window shuts
His outside-the-box thinking and innovative formational changes saw aging skipper Francesco Totti shine in a false nine role, but he was not overawed by the legendary figure and stood up to him figuratively as well as literally while at the club.
Film producer and Partenopei president Aurelio De Laurentiis is a tough man to keep happy, and a ruthless financial dealer. He conceded the club has ‘innumerable’ financial issues, some of which exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.
It’s clear why Spalletti says he’s happy for the window to close tomorrow. If the big stars stay, though, they could be an outside bet for an unlikely Scudetto.
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