New AC Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri paid his dues in several small-town theatres before this summer brought him the lead role at San Siro, 'La Scala del Calcio'. Having snapped at the chance when the seven-time European champions came calling, the 43-year-old is now determined to prove he belongs on one of football's grandest stages.
Back in his playing days, Allegri turned out for several seasons in the lower divisions in his native Tuscany until finally making his Serie A debut with Pescara Calcio in 1992. That pattern was then repeated when he made the switch to coaching, with Cagliari Calcio handing him his top-flight chance in 2008. Now, dopo tanta gavetta – 'after eating from so many mess tins', as the Italian expression goes – he is ready to make the next step.
"As a coach, to rise through those levels is good," he told UEFA.com. "You experience the differences and variety [in the game], and when you reach the higher levels the things you learnt help you in your work."
Some aspects cannot compare, however, and dealing with world-class players on a daily basis is a completely new challenge for Allegri. "At the end, it's important that there is respect, discipline and enthusiasm, because nobody can take away what they have won so far," he explained. "But whoever has won something wants to do it again."
Two more stars joined Milan just ahead of the transfer deadline, with Zlatan Ibrahimović and Robinho both making the move, and Allegri greeted their arrival by describing Milan's attack as the best in the world. "It's important because they strengthen and complete our attacking power, but we also lost one striker in [Marco] Borriello," he said. "
Ibrahimović is physically strong and Robinho has a lot of skills as well."
Despite the Rossoneri's array of attacking riches, Allegri is wary of promising that his side will look to set the standard for spectacular football this season. "That's difficult to say because there are a lot of factors," he explained. "In order to win – to win Serie A and the Champions League – you need a very balanced team."
The UEFA Champions League group stage is sure to be a severe test for Allegri, especially since his charges have been drawn in a tantalising section alongside Real Madrid CF, AFC Ajax and AJ Auxerre. "It will certainly be full of emotions for me, as it's the first time," he admitted. "Plus the draw put us in a group with very big clubs. But you also have to say that every group is difficult in the Champions League."
The most intriguing games will undoubtedly be those against José Mourinho's Madrid, which will pit the competition's two must successful sides against each other. "Certainly, those are fascinating matches," said Allegri. "At the same time, games like that give you the right mindset to tackle the Champions League from the very start.
"Mourinho did very well in Italy but now he is at Real Madrid and we have to focus on Real and hope to get a good result. He is a coach who gives his team the right approach. He believes in his squad and knows how to motivate the players in the right way."
When Mourinho was leading FC Porto to the UEFA Champions League title in 2003/04, Allegri was starting out in his first coaching assignment at Aglianese Calcio 1923, a team in the fourth tier of the Italian game playing to a stadium with just 2,500 seats. No surprise, then, that the Milan boss is relishing the start of his UEFA Champions League dream.
"It means a lot to me; it's a great satisfaction," he said. "This is now my third year in Serie A and coaching this prestigious club is just fantastic. They're the club with the most trophies in the world, and I think we have a very strong and competitive team this season."
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