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Poll: Who Will Win Serie A's New Most Valuable Coach Award This Season?

The league announced a new MVP award, so we look at the men coaching the new “Seven Sisters” of Serie A.

AS Roma v Raja Casablanca - Pre-Season Friendly Photo by Fabio Rossi/AS Roma via Getty Images

The media used to rave about the spending records of Juventus, Milan, Inter, Roma, Lazio, Fiorentina, and Parma back in the original “Seven Sisters” era of Serie A in the 1990s. Now there’s talk of a new era of the Seven Sisters, who are ready to form a new foundation for Italian football, yet the financial backdrop to their top-billed status looks very different from the glamour days of old.

Nowadays, Serie A’s clubs are just running exercises on how to buy time and survive. Until next season. Until winter. Until the end of next month when they should know more about UEFA’s official plans for the next era of Financial Fair Play.

There may be a lot of changes around the corner for Europe's big five leagues, but, with that in mind, the Lega Serie A announced (report via Calcio e Finanza) a new Most Valuable Coach award for the 2021-2022 domestic league season this past week. This is separate from the Italian AIC’s Coach of the Year award.

Why? Because we just need more back-slapping come the end of May. Don’t ask questions.

Maybe this announcement comes in response to reigning Serie A MVP Romelu Lukaku upping sticks and moving to the Premier League this summer, which wasn’t great if Italy’s top-flight looked to steer clear of suggestions that it’s now nothing but a development league, feeding accomplished talent into the richer leagues around Europe as soon as they’re ready to collect big transfer fees. But never mind that angle.

We took the news as an opportunity to ask you who you believe will reign supreme as Serie A’s best manager next Ma, so let’s look at the top names likely in the running:

Simone Inzaghi: Inter Milan

FC Internazionale Press Conference Photo by Mattia Ozbot - Inter/Inter via Getty Images

What Could Go Right

There’s an argument to be made that Inzaghi may be one of Italian football’s great in-game managers. No one can say they know what to expect in terms of Inzaghi’s playing strategy at Inter Milan this season, because no one ever really knew what to expect from Inzaghi’s Lazio.

Couple that with the Inter squad at his disposal—one that still includes names like Milan Skriniar, Nicolò Barella, Denzel Dumfries, and, yes, Edin Dzeko—can any other team honestly say they know how to beat Inter Milan this season? You’d better prove it first.

What Could Go Wrong

Let’s face it: Inzaghi could be fired by Christmas, if not sooner, should things really start off badly.

You just know there’s a whole section of Inter, Lazio, and Serie A fans in general who are ready to say Inzaghi isn’t cut out for one of Italy’s big three clubs. Not only is Inzaghi unproven under the media glare that a club like Inter brings with it, but does he even know who his employers will be for the course of the entire season? Or if they really believe in him?

The Bottom Line

Tactics blogs often assume what you see on the pitch is exactly what the coach intended, but trying to typecast Inzaghi’s football at Lazio is as rash as saying Maurizio Sarri’s “Sarriball” is none other than the 4-3-3 seen in his Napoli days.

We’ve seen various team shapes (even if still pinned by the same principles) from Maurizio Sarri’s teams since those Napoli days. Similary, we don’t know what Inzaghi really has in mind for Inter right now if we’re just stuck on his time at Lazio.

FC Internazionale Training Session Photo by Mattia Ozbot - Inter/Inter via Getty Images

Where Sarri once worked hard to make Lorenzo Insigne the star of hometown club Napoli, Inzaghi relied upon the chemistry of his Lazio front four of Immobile/Correa/Alberto/Milinkovic-Savic. The understanding those four Lazio players had defined everything that Inzaghi decided to shape around them, even if he did come up with some genuinely inventive sub-tactics with the other six outfield players all the same.

Inter may be a “selling club” this season, but we don’t know if Inzaghi will incubate his game in a completely different area of the pitch this time. When you’ve got star midfielder Nicolò Barella at the heart of your team, that seems as good a place to start as any.

Stefano Pioli: A.C. Milan

AC Milan Training Session Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/AC Milan via Getty Images

What Could Go Right

When you look at Milan’s squad market value and how well it is spread, then the Rossoneri arguably have the best squad depth in the league. There may have been a longer pre-season break for clubs, compared to this time last summer, but there’s still been very little rest for Serie A’s top footballers.

You can’t put it past a squad like Milan’s setting the early pace in Serie A for the second season running.

What Could Go Wrong

It’s what Milan can put together at the business end of the season that counts and, besides the phenomenal talent of Tomori at the back and some solid names through the spine of the team, is there really a Milan player to come up with the good when the pressure is on?

And no, 39-year old Zlatan Ibrahimovic and his half-dozen penalty misses under pressure don’t count.

We have plenty of respect for what Ibra achieved earlier in his career, but Milan are facing many pressing questions, including: Can they really afford to play the same style of football this season (one that invited a hell of a lot of pressure onto their defensive 18-yard line) without the world’s best European goalkeeper Gigio Donnarumma at the back?

The Bottom Line

Milan worked hard to get their former players and TV network cronies to talk down Donnarumma’s decision to leave for PSG as one where he was “betraying his family.” But you’ve never seen such hypocrisy from a club that snatched Donnarumma from Naples, back when he was a kid honest enough to say he doesn’t even like football and just agreed to take up a career in support of his family.

AC Milan Training Session Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/AC Milan via Getty Images

Without Gigio at the club, we don’t know where Milan are going, even if new keeper Mike Maignan comes with a solid reputation.

To tell you the truth, including Pioli in this list felt forced. There’s a sense he’s always been the “caretaker” who over-achieved at Milan, and that they don’t quite know where the next step is taking them together.

That may seem disrespectful to Pioli, but fair play to him if he continues to prove every one of us wrong and does something unexpected like win the league title. Who could begrudge him that on a personal level?

Massimiliano Allegri: Juventus

Juventus v Atalanta BC - Pre-Season Friendly Photo by Giuseppe Cottini/NurPhoto via Getty Images

What Could Go Right

Let’s not spend too much time analyzing this one: Max Allegri is one of Italian football’s most-winningest managers now re-united with Italy’s biggest club. Is any further explanation really needed?

What Could Go Wrong

They say you should never go back for a second time. Some Juventus players would use Allegri’s return as an excuse to relax, knowing that the club expects their celebrated coach to take the reigns in lauching Juventus back to the Serie A summit.

The Bottom Line

We said it earlier but we’re not going to spend much time explaining Allegri’s significance to Italian football, though it’s always intriguing to see how Allegri is spoken of among Serie A fans who started watching in the mid-2010s compared to fans of the era prior.

We still remember when Allegri was seen as “lucky” at AC Milan (let alone how he was disparaged at Cagliari), but you definitely can’t argue that Allegri's success since then has been anything other than well-deserved. All that said, just spare a thought for Andrea Pirlo.

Juventus Training Session Photo by Daniele Badolato - Juventus FC/Juventus FC via Getty Images

Pirlo has spent the last decade with Max Allegri acting (whether directly or otherwise) as a thorn in Pirlo’s career. The former midfielder wanted to end his playing career at AC Milan, before then-Milan coach Allegri decided in 2011 that Pirlo was “done” at the top level and pushed the club to give Pirlo away on a free transfer to Juventus; what a mistake that turned out to be.

Then Pirlo (the player) was riding the wave of his Juventus success before Allegri was hired as Juve’s head coach (for the first time) and forces Pirlo to leave for New York. Then Pirlo waits until Allegri leaves the Juve job before Andrea comes back to Europe to first coach Juve’s youth team and then immediately accepts the promotion to the Juve manager job.

Now in 2021, who is the man Juventus courted behind the scenes before they felt confident enough to fire not-so-club-legend-after-all Andrea Pirlo from the Bianconeri hot seat? Yeah.

Don’t tell us Pirlo doesn’t have a dartboard with Allegri’s face on it somewhere.

Gian Piero Gasperini: Atalanta

Genoa CFC v Atalanta BC - Serie A Photo by Getty Images

What Could Go Right

He’s at arguably the most stable club in European and world football. Atalanta have developed a “plug and play” culture of collective football that’s given them the ability to sell names in key positions on the pitch and barely feel the loss no matter who’s chosen as the first-eleven replacement.

I mean they even survived Gasperini pushing playmaker Papu Gomez out of the club, for god’s sake. And their league position barely even blinked. If anything, it got better.

What Could Go Wrong

There’s a feeling of “always the bridesmaids, never the bride” starting to circle the Bergamo-based club. And you get the impression it’s really getting to Gasperini, too. In fact, it’s turning him into a d*ck.

Not only did Gasperini verbally abuse officials during an unscheduled blood-test of his Atalanta players last season, but he recently found himself back in the middle of a “he said, he said” fight with former player Papu Gomez in the press, with claims of physical assault getting thrown around on both sides. Add this pre-season’s charges brought against Gasperini by Italian football authorities for verbally abusing referees during Atalanta’s friendly (friendly!) games, and something’s clearly grinding Gasperini’s gears.

The Bottom Line

Regardless of anything written above, it’s hard not to root fot Atalanta. They’ve done, in pure sporting terms, nearly everything right. And a lot of people seem to work overtime to find reasons to discredit Atalanta’s achievement at each rung of the ladder.

Think: “Italy needs the Big 3 in Europe to survive as a league”, or “Atalanta don’t have the same pressure that other clubs do”, or “Atalanta can’t survive the sale of Player X”... it goes on and on, as every other club at the top of Serie A tries to find alibis for the way they short-change their own fans with p*ss-poor management decisions compared to Atalanta.

Luciano Spalletti: Napoli

SSC Napoli Training Session Photo by SSC NAPOLI/SSC NAPOLI via Getty Images

What Could Go Right

Everything about Napoli’s squad is screaming ‘right time, right place’. The Partenopei squad are at the perfect average age and the right market-value distribution among their players to be legitimately gunning for a top two finish.

That’s... if Napoli can keep their squad together.

What Could Go Wrong

The club is 100 million euros overspent for the last three seasons, which would have meant forced sales by the end of this August (if not earlier this summer) under the old (now scrapped) Financial Fair Play rules. Still, rules or no rules, Napoli’s budget is right on the limit.

There’s still time for Aurelio De Laurentiis to justify a last-minute sale of Kalidou Koulibaly or Lorenzo Insigne, the latter having been unable to agree to a new contract with his hometown club all summer. There’s no doubt Insigne will have larger demands after becoming one of the icons of Italy’s Euro 2020 success. And that makes him ripe for throwing under the bus by his coach Luciano Spalletti.

The Bottom Line

This article welcomes some of Serie A’s greatest Scudetto-winning managers, and, of course, Luciano Spalletti.

We kid. We kid.

SSC Napoli Training Session Photo by SSC NAPOLI/SSC NAPOLI via Getty Images

He may never have found out what it’s like to win a top-flight league title anywhere outside of Russia, but Spalletti does know how to motivate a club into challenging for a top four finish overnight. That’s exactly what evaded Napoli last season (and put them even further into the red), so that’s what Spalletti was hired to do for ADL’s club.

Spalletti really does have the right blend of players to achieve it, though he could do with the club signing an alternative left-back.

On the flip side, club captain Lorenzo Insigne (if he still is at the club past August 31st) better watch his back. At Spalletti’s last three clubs, he’s thrown three club captains under the bus in an attempt to win the loyalty of the dressing room through what can only be described as traumatic bonding—and to mixed results, it has to be said.

There’s always room for the mid-season Spalletti meltdown at the business end of the calendar. Or a demoralizing loss in Europe to a club with ten times less the value of Napoli’s current roster. That tends to happen with Spalletti’s football.

Maurizio Sarri: Lazio

SS Lazio Press Conference Photo by Marco Rosi - SS Lazio/Getty Images

What Could Go Right

I hold Maurizio Sarri in high esteem but it’s surprisingly hard to point out what could go right in his first season on the Lazio hotseat. And not because it’s Lazio. We’re just really struggling to point out what actually fits between club and coach in this picture.

If Lazio has anything going for them straight out the gate it’s that, like Inzaghi at Inter, their opponents can only look at Lazio as something of an unknown quantity; especially when Sarri is promoting young names like Raul Moro and Luka Romero to his senior squad. It wasn’t so long ago that people were asking “who’s Hysaj? who’s Ghoulam? who’s Jorginho? who’s Zielinski?”

It takes comparatively little for Sarrismo to work its magic and build the next Serie A household name.

What Could Go Wrong

Just ask our trusted correspondent, sportswriter, and Lazio super-fan Jerry Mancini. There’s a distinct feeling, like De Laurentiis at Napoli, that Claudio Lotito is playing it too cautious and isn’t doing enough for his coach Sarri.

Yeah, ok, the man can get you results on a budget. But ambition from the board always goes a long way. Sarri’s football also tends to need one season (or in some cases, as one Chiesa di Totti forum member set me straight on recently, just 10 weeks, but 10 weeks all the same) to really get going.

So this year may not be Sarri’s year if Lazio gets off to a slow start, but it could be a foundation for him to really grab Rome’s headlines in the long term.

The Bottom Line

Pre-Season Friendly”Fc Twente Enschede v Lazio Roma” Photo by ANP Sport via Getty Images

Lazio fans often make the (very valid) case that Roma are, in fact, the noisy neighbors of the Eternal City. It barely seems like a summer goes by where Roma aren’t patting themselves on the back for big spending, living in the big house on the big side of town. But really and truly, in all the years of splashing the cash and claiming “this is our year”, what results do Roma really have to show for it?

Lazio have two Coppa Italia and two Supercoppa Italia trophies to show for themselves over the last decade, compared to Roma’s big fat zero. We lament about the sales of guys like Radja Nainggolan, Kevin Strootman, and all of those names but the truth is Roma sold players who won absolutely nothing.

And even if you believe those Roma players were “only one season away” from winning something “if the band had just been kept together”, Roma never had the budget to keep the team together thanks to decades-worth of fatally flawed ownership plans from, not limited to but including, club owners like James Pallotta.

Lazio is the club that gives credence to the idea “less is more” (even if they’ve been forced to do so by historically bad debts of their own) and they’ve found the right coach to marry that philosophy.

José Mourinho: Roma

Real Betis Sevilla v AS Roma - Club Friendly Photo by David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images

What Could Go Right

Apparently, anything that could go right for Roma this season happens by accident or completely on the fly.

That may be Jose Mourinho’s way of playing down expectations around his new-look Roma side, but he’s been working hard to come across as candid about the fact that Roma’s transfer strategy was never really the original plan.

That being said, if this is what Tiago Pinto’s “reactive” Plan B looks like then it could turn out to be inspired, and maybe the Pinto/Mourinho team should second-guess their Plan A more often. In the last two summers, we’ve seen Rick Karsdorp’s change of heart save the club from signing Mattia De Sciglio, and Edin Dzeko’s change of heart gives Roma fans a season where we’re looking forward to a potential attacking unit of Eldor Shomurodov and Nicolò Zaniolo flanking none other than Tammy Abraham up front.

That’s a frontline that could take Serie A’s high-pressing teams by storm on the break.

AS Roma Training Session Photo by Fabio Rossi/AS Roma via Getty Images

What Could Go Wrong

Roma’s frontline lacks experience and we can’t be sure they’re going to strike up an understanding unless Henrikh Mkhitaryan is coaching them further back on the pitch.

Roma’s backline is full of players who haven’t shown the kind of concentration levels needed to come out on top of the constant individual duels that Mourinho’s football demands, so this is unchartered territory all around.

Roma’s full-backs are used to collective defending, but the new, passive, mid-to-low block defensive phase under Mourinho is, once again, another sign of just how much more the club’s wide men will have to ask of themselves on an individual level.

All of this smacks of people looking to tell Roma “I told you so” when arguing that Mourinho’s football belongs back in the early 2000s and that's not just club football. Italian football is also changing at the international level, with Euro 2020-winning coach Roberto Mancini moving to a more collective approach of pressing the ball all over the pitch, playing a high line (no matter how old your central defenders are), and playing for supremacy in your opponent’s half when you see that window of opportunity.

And then there’s the Derby della Capitale, as well as Roma’s (lately one-sided) rivalry with Atalanta where the real clash-of-styles football is to be seen this season. Those games could really go wrong (or right) both home and away.

Chelsea FC v Manchester United - Premier League Photo by Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images

Mourinho is known for preferring not to drop points to direct rivals, at all costs playing the long game over a full season, rather than risk going for the win (i.e. risk losing) against them. That sets the stage for Sarri’s Lazio and Gasperini’s Atalanta to counter-press Roma right into some unflattering back page headlines, not to mention those two rivals playing Roma for greater numbers all over the pitch.

Or could it turn out that Mourinho’s Roma hit Atalanta and Lazio on the break. A smash-and-grab victory based on set-piece goals? That’s got to be worth bragging rights. But if Roma aren’t looking to win against their direct rivals, it forces you to ask what change has the club really made compared to the last two seasons? Time will tell.

Either way, it definitely looks like those are the flashpoint games for Roma this season.

The Bottom Line

AS Roma Press Conference Photo by Fabio Rossi/AS Roma via Getty Images

Personally, Mourinho’s football has given me some of the best matches of my life. Especially in cup competitions. There’s nothing like a clash-of-styles knockout game where one team sits back in defensive discipline, absorbing the opponent’s offensive pressure while looking to hit them on the break and vice versa.

You know the old saying: Irresistible force meets an immovable object.

I don’t go out of my way for Mourinho’s public persona today, but I will always remember (and re-watch - often with a beer in my hand) Inter Milan’s Champions League two-leg victory over Barcelona in 2010. I’ll also always remember Didier Drogba’s extra-time winner in the 2007 FA Cup final. Unfortunately, the “Battle of Helm’s Deep”-style knockout victories of those days are deliberately wiped out of the game right now.

Football has shifted to favoring attacking sides who risk getting players forward in numbers, especially in the UEFA guidelines when it comes to refereeing the big calls and favoring the attacker in 50/50 penalty and offside decisions. And don’t tell us VAR will fix it because you can’t overrule the referee’s original decision if there isn’t a “clear and obvious error.”

Whoever works on keeping the ball in the opponent’s final third tends to get the rub of the green, because today’s football wants big scorelines with increasingly less reward for pragmatic, one-goal victory teams.

We’ve seen very little evidence that Mourinho is a “defensive” coach, but it’s how he goes about the defensive phase—with near non-existing counter-pressing—that’s rubbed fans of modern coaches like Pochettino, Tuchel, and even Mourinho’s traditional rival Pep Guardiola the wrong way. But should we care?

Roma’s not necessarily hungry for style points as much as the club is hungry for league points and results. That’s the bottom line.

Let us know which manager you believe will be reigning supreme in May 2022, below:

Poll

Who will win Serie A’s Most Valuable Coach of 2021/22?

This poll is closed

  • 6%
    Simone Inzaghi
    (19 votes)
  • 0%
    Stefano Pioli
    (1 vote)
  • 8%
    Max Allegri
    (25 votes)
  • 7%
    Gian Piero Gasperini
    (21 votes)
  • 3%
    Luciano Spalletti
    (11 votes)
  • 4%
    Maurizio Sarri
    (12 votes)
  • 67%
    José Mourinho
    (193 votes)
  • 1%
    Other (feel free to use the comment section)
    (3 votes)
285 votes total Vote Now