Vindication for Max Allegri as Juventus claim fourth consecutive Italian title
There are few greater satisfactions in life than proving people wrong, silencing the critics, earning the respect of those who begrudged you it and denying the haters the pleasure of schadenfreude.
Of the emotions Massimiliano Allegri experienced as his Juventus players took him on their shoulders and tossed him into the air after a title-clinching 1-0 win against Sampdoria at Marassi on Saturday, surely the final one must have been the prevailing.
Asked to reflect on his early days as Juve coach, Allegri, with the dry sense of humour typical of those from Livorno, which explains his nickname - acciuga, the anchovy -- reminded everyone of his first game in charge. It was a friendly against amateur side Lucento and even with Fernando Llorente and Carlos Tevez involved, Juventus lost 3-2.
The Allegri sceptics seized upon it as proof of his inadequacy and they weren't a minority. His record at Milan had greatly divided opinion and the fact Juventus' first Scudetto under Antonio Conte in 2011-12 came at his expense only added to the impression among supporters that he was of inferior ability.
They feared the worst and lashed out. A fanbase was hurting. After all, they hadn't wanted Conte to go. At his final home in May 2014 against Cagliari a huge choreography showed him pointing the way. Accompanying cards bore his name and played on it too. "Con-te", they read: With you.
They were losing one of their own, an all-time Juve great as a player, captain and coach. Following him would be a hard act for anyone and Allegri's past and the perception of his work appeared to make it even harder, which meant his appointment was deeply unpopular.
Only last month, Juventus general manager Beppe Marotta recalled how the car taking Allegri to his official unveiling had been kicked, spat at and pelted with eggs. Fans sang Conte's name and chanted "we don't want you" and much worse towards Allegri.
This was on July 15 after Conte had left it late to resign. Rather than quit at the end of last season, he had gone on holiday, thought about things and handed in his notice only after the first day of pre-season. President Andrea Agnelli was bitterly disappointed and expected more of his outgoing manager. Now everything they'd worked for was in jeopardy.
The club's transfer strategy was thrown out of kilter. Juan Manuel Iturbe had a plane ticket for Turin but flew to the capital and joined Roma instead -- a lucky escape, in hindsight -- while Patrice Evra needed a call to reassure him that he still figured in Juventus' plans.
Swift and decisive action was required and the club had to get their managerial decision right. At the time, most believed they were getting it horribly wrong and there was little confidence in Allegri. The expectation was that 2014-15 would be Roma's year and that Napoli would be stronger too in Rafa Benitez's second season in charge.
Hindsight is 20-20 but Juventus' crisis management couldn't have been better. They didn't panic or do anything rash. On the contrary, they remained calm, rational, showed clarity of thought and ensured their success, rather than being compromised, would continue instead. That's the mark of well-run club.
Allegri merits great credit too, not only for the job he has done but for taking it in the first place. Between bravery and stupidity there is a very thin line and many had Allegri down as a fool.
After all, Conte had strung together three straight Scudetti for the first time in Juventus' history since 1933, each one better than the last: an undefeated campaign followed by more points, more wins and more goals the next, before one for the ages in his last, featuring a record 102 points and a perfect home record.
"To take charge of the team on July 15 and lead them to victory again took balls!" Agnelli tweeted last night. It certainly wasn't for the feint-hearted.
When a team wins as regularly as Juventus do and by the margin they have done with four games to spare -- a club record Allegri can call his own -- there's a temptation to take it for granted, to believe that showing up is enough on its own for them to be crowned champions.
Indeed, captain Gianluigi Buffon admitted "the others helped us a little" by not running Juventus as hard as in other years but that should by no means diminish this achievement because this season was anything but routine.
"We started it amid chaos," Leonardo Bonucci recalled. The futures of Paul Pogba and Arturo Vidal were subject to potentially destabilising transfer gossip and most of the squad didn't have the summer off because of the World Cup.
Meanwhile, Andrea Barzagli, a cornerstone of the "BBC" defence with Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini, returned injured and wouldn't feature until March. Kwadwo Asamoah and new signing Romulo joined him in the treatment room and are only beginning to emerge.
Andrea Pirlo missed the first month of the season, meaning it was a while before the speculation could be definitively put to rest about his relationship with Allegri, who, according to the received wisdom had been the architect of Milan's downfall and Juventus' rise by marginalising the midfielder at San Siro and sending him to Turin.
Of course Il Maestro returned in time for the top of the table clash with Roma in October. That game saw Vidal, whose goal put the seal on the Scudetto against Samp on Saturday, benched after a fracas outside a nightclub for which he received a club record fine. The Chilean has spent much of this season going through the motions and is only now coming back to his best.
Juventus beat Roma 3-2 but not without controversy. The pretenders to their throne may have lost but, galvanised by a perceived sense of justice and how well they competed, flew back to the capital convinced their wait for a first title since 2001 would end in May. "We will win the Scudetto," Rudi Garcia declared.
"I think they really believe what they say," Allegri told La Gazzetta dello Sport. "And they do well to. Roma are strong and are coming off a great season. The fact is that now there is nowhere left to hide. The pressure is great for them because another second place wouldn't be enough, it would be a great disappointment, a little failure."
While he was doing better than anticipated, suspicion of Allegri lingered. Juventus had gone to Atletico Madrid and Olympiakos and lost in the Champions League. It felt like a case of different coach, same results in Europe and this was supposed to be the one area Allegri could do better than Conte.
Looking back on the season, Buffon claims there wasn't any single pivotal moment in the campaign but Olympiakos' visit to Turin in November had the feel of a turning point. Allegri would bide his time before making this team his own, sensibly leaving his ego at the door and respecting the work done before him by taking the view that, if it ain't broke don't fix it.
He persisted with Conte's 3-5-2 system, which left him open to accusations that he was bringing nothing new. However, at a time when Juventus' Champions League future was on the line and the stakes couldn't have been much higher, Allegri took a risk and changed to a 4-3-1-2.
Not only did the Old Lady come back and win, he gave the people what they had long been calling for and entered into their hearts. "Fiuuu" he tweeted in relief after the game. Now a cult phrase among Juventini, Allegri had taken the first step to winning them over and to delivering the step-change the club desired on the continent.
Since then, Juventus haven't looked back. Roma stayed on their tails until January -- when the gap was only a point -- but then began to fade and fast. After every title defence the question put to them has been: do they have the same hunger and desire? What motivation is left domestically?
Calciopoli, the revoked titles and the wait for another still burns for Buffon, Chiellini and Claudio Marchisio, veterans, for whom the fear is that this could be their last also drives them on too. But this year was mostly about showing Juve could win without Conte and that the last three titles weren't all down to him.
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It has not been a perfect campaign. Juventus lost at home for the first time since April 2013, suffered their first defeat vs. Torino in the Derby della Mole in 20 years and also allowed bankrupt cellar dwellers Parma to get the better of them.
Numbers-wise, the Bianconeri are currently 11 points worse off than at this stage a year ago, although that is more an indictment on Roma and the rest of the league.
However, the emotions have probably been more memorable. A statement win against Dortmund and a first Champions League semifinal in 12 years, as well as the Coppa semifinal comeback against Fiorentina have given rise to the prospect of a treble and, if not that, then a first league and cup double since 1995.
Such an achievement would only be the third in club history. A Coppa win vs. Lazio next month would also be a 10th triumph in that competition, a feat no club has achieved and which would be commemorated by a silver star. As Chiellini said yesterday the season is far from over.
The only Juventus employers drinking champagne yesterday were Marotta and the physios. Celebrations were restrained because the players have Tuesday's clash with Real Madrid on their minds. However, in Buffon's words this Scudetto still has "a special taste."
Allegri will savour it more than most. Only the seventh coach to win the league with two different clubs in Italy and the first to do it in his debut season at each, few will question his credentials again. Max has taken his revenge.
James covers the Italian Serie A and European football for ESPN FC Follow him on Twitter @JamesHorncastle.