What went wrong for Allegri at AC Milan?

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With so many big name players, a mammoth stadium often full of adoring fans and a history that dazzles amongst the leading lights of European soccer, surely it’s easy to manage a club like AC Milan.

Think again.

So often the biggest jobs in European soccer become a poisoned chalice and after Massimiliano Allegri was sacked on Monday, following a 4-3 defeat to his former club Sassuolo, the soccer elite have yet another victim.

The dismissal brings an end to his time in charge at Milan, as Allegri was given a fair crack of the whip with four seasons in charge but in the end a lack of investment and not culling some of his aging squad proved to be his downfall. Right now AC sit 11th in Serie A and only six points clear of the relegation zone however they are still in the UEFA Champions League and face Atletico Madrid in the last 16 next month.

(MORE: Latest Serie A Standings)

Allegri had often struggled in the UCL compared to the Italian top-flight, as he won the Scuddeto in his first season in charge but that seems like a distant memory now as the Rossoneri stormed to the title back  in 2010-11 and came second in 2011-12. One other trophy, the Italian Suppercoppa, followed but that has been it for one of European soccer’s most successful clubs.

One other thing that spelled the end for the 46-year-old was the return of long-time AC Milan President and former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who once again became the sole club President in 2012. Since 1986 Berlusconi has been juggling his leadership of Milan and the Italian nation and in that time he’s now had 17 managers in charge at the San Siro, with only Carlo Ancelotti lasting longer than five years when he took charge between 2001-2009.

source: Getty Images
An aging squad plus a lack of investment means Allegri’s time at AC was riddled with change and turmoil.

In that respect Allegri is the third longest-serving boss under the Berlusconi era, but of late the league form has been atrocious and something needed to be done to rectify that. Stars players such as Kaka, Robinho, Mario Balotelli and Stephen El Shaarway should not have steered Milan into mid-table obscurity in Serie A. But they have. Some of the big names haven’t stood up to be counted with the side struggling and that confounded Allegri’s worst fears, as even the likes of Kaka looks a shade of his former self after Milan brought him back to the San Siro on a free transfer. With only two league wins in their last 11 games since October 27, the writing has been on the wall for Allegri.

This season defending has been the main problem for AC as they’ve let in 30 goals in 19 games, which may not sound like that many but when you’re used to staunch defensive displays and you play in Serie A… that’s a lot of goals being leaked.

However Milan struggling to perform in Serie A isn’t something new as last season they had a terrible start to the campaign and had just eight points form their first seven games. But Allegri turned that around and guided Milan to third place and a Champions League berth after AC had been languishing towards the relegation zone during the first half of the 2012-13 season.

(MORE: Clarence Seedorf to become AC Milan’s new manager)

He wasn’t given time to do that this season, and before Christmas he’d already signified his intent to move on from the San Siro after this campaign and his contract was up, stating “this will be my last Christmas at AC Milan.” Turns out the end came sooner than Allegri thought it would, but it needed to happen after his early promise as head coach declined rapidly. Strange comments in 2012 also marred Allegri’s future as when he signed a new deal in January of that year, as the former Cagliari boss declared that he would only by a manager for another 10 seasons as the stress was too much to handle.

Now Milan have appointed former legend Clarence Seedorf as their new manager, it seems as though Berlusconi will be more involved than ever to help the young coach succeed and turns things around. Allegri got that help last season, but he wasn’t going to get it again this year.

Many weren’t surprised he was shown the door, but will he get another chance to manage on the biggest stage? With a top three finish in every single full season as AC Milan manager, he didn’t do any awful job but progress wasn’t being made as fast as Berlusconi and the other executives would’ve liked. Allegri finishes his time in charge at Milan with 91 wins from 178 games, with a win percentage of 51.12 percent.

Not bad for someone who’s been under pressure since the very start. Even if he didn’t quite live up to expectations, Allegri should get a crack at another top job in Italy relatively soon.

Serie A: Napoli go top for first time in 25 years; Inter a close 2nd

Gonzalo Higuain, SSC Napoli
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A quick roundup of Monday’s action in Italy’s top flight…

Napoli 2-1 Inter Milan

For the first time since the final day of the 1989-90 season, Napoli are top of Serie A all by themselves after a top-of-the-table clash with previous leaders Inter Milan.

Gonzalo Higuain bagged both goals for the Azzurri, the first of which came after just 65 seconds. His tally on 62 minutes held up as the game-winner after Adem Ljajic pulled one back for Roberto Mancini’s side in the 67 minute. The opener (below video) was a powerful finish from inside the penalty area which served as a strong reminder as to why a club like Arsenal is consistently linked to the Argentine striker.

Sassuolo 1-1 Fiorentina

Fiorentina, who had a chance to stake their own claim to the top spot, dropped two points away to seventh-place Sassuolo earlier in the day, opening the door for Napoli to go top with their victory. After shooting out of the gates red hot (6 wins in their first 7 games), the Viola have now drawn back to back games — to Empoli and Sassuolo — and find themselves third, two points behind Napoli.

Borja Valero put Fiorentina ahead after five minutes on Monday, but Sassuolo equalized through Sergio Floccari just before halftime to keep their own dreams of European qualification alive.

Serie A table

Matchup by matchup: Picking a favorite for MLS Cup 2015

Portland Timbers FC
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We’re T-minus 137 hours to the kickoff of MLS Cup 2015, between Columbus Crew SC and the Portland Timbers.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

When the two sides meet at MAPFRE Stadium on Sunday (4 p.m. ET), the general public will have picked a slight favorite to hoist MLS Cup, just like any other game. Only, this one’s a bit tougher to call — there’s no clear-cut favorite as is usually the case in MLS Cup, so we’ll do our best to explore a few key matchups that might slant Sunday’s title tilt in one direction or the other…

Crew SC width (Waylon Francis, Harrison Afful, Justin Meram, Ethan Finlay) vs. Timbers width (Jorge Villafana, Alvas Powell, Rodney Wallace, Dairon Asprilla)

  • Pinning the wingers back — There’s two ways to beat Crew SC: 1) sit with eight or nine men behind the ball and frustrate them through a lack of space to attack; or, 2) pin Finlay and Meram deep inside their own half, defensively, by getting your full backs forward and forcing them to defend. It’s doable, but it’s not easy. On the other side, best of luck to Wallace and Asprilla with the tracking back they’ll be forced into with perhaps the best attacking right back in MLS, Afful, and Francis overlapping on either side. Fanendo Adi could find himself on an island very quickly if the Crew SC full backs get forward as often as they’d like.
  • Where the help comes from — That’s the biggest issue for Portland, who ever since dropping Darlington Nagbe into midfield, play with a lone defensive midfielder, Diego Chara. He’s great at covering the entire field and providing help to blow up an opposing attack, but he can only be on one side of the field at a time. This means Borchers and Ridgewell will be stretched wider and forced to defend Finlay and Meram in space, where they’re oh so deadly.
  • Advantage: Crew SC

[ MORE: Crew SC announce MLS Cup sold out 15 hours after qualifying ]

Kei Kamara vs. Nat Borchers and Liam Ridgewell

  • All it takes is one chance — Neither one of Borchers or Ridgewell can physically compete with Kamara’s rare combination of speed and athleticism — to be fair, few center backs this side of the world can. Therefore, 90 percent of “defending” Kamara will be staying tight to the 22-goalscorer during the regular season and, with any luck, not losing track of him once the ball gets out to the wings. Once Kamara gets that yard of space in any direction and the ball goes up on the cross, the center backs’ chances of winning the next ball are much, much lower. That said, Kamara will find far less space against Borchers and Ridgewell (and Diego Chara) than he enjoyed against Montreal and New York thus far in the playoffs. There’s very few center back duos with the experience and nous of the Timbers’ backbone.
  • Advantage: Timbers

[ MORE: Beckham group abandons yet another stadium plan, site in Miami ]

Timbers midfield three (Diego Chara, Darlington Nagbe, Diego Valeri) vs. Crew SC midfield three (Tony Tchani, Wil Trapp, Federico Higuain)

  • Nagbe the key to balance — Darlington Nagbe will, one day, be an MLS Best XI central midfielder. Today is not that day, though. He’s still a work in progress, and probably the most exploitable individual on the field in Crew SC’s eyes. Tchani and Trapp are, in my opinion, the best deep-sitting midfield duo in the league, and they’ll press, harry and harass Nagbe for 90 (0r 120) minutes, probably starting a fair few of those deadly counter-attacks in the middle third of the field.
  • Advantage: Crew SC

[ MORE: Timbers reach first MLS Cup | Crew SC to host MLS Cup 2015 ]

Gregg Berhalter vs. Caleb Porter

  • Lineups set themselves — Neither coach is likely to throw out a huge surprise before kickoff — dance with one that brought you, or something like that. Up until recently, I was completely convinced that Porter was vastly overrated and didn’t understand the constant adoration that surrounded the man his first two or three years in charge. Everything was a bit stale and rigid, organized, but lacking flair. Then he moved Nagbe into midfield to allow his biggest game-changer more opportunities on the ball to affect the game much more. This leads me to believe Porter is a bit more flexible in seeing his team and system operate in slightly different ways, but only barely.
  • Advantage: Timbers

Crew SC announce MLS Cup 2015 sold out 15 hours after qualifying

Wil Trapp, Columbus Crew SC
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The building formerly known as Crew Stadium has hosted its fair share of famous soccer games since it opened in 1999 — dos a cero, anyone? — and Sunday’s MLS Cup 2015 looks set to rank right up there among them.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Roughly 15 hours after advancing to this year’s MLS Cup, which they will host this Sunday (4 p.m. ET), Columbus Crew SC announced on Monday that MAPFRE Stadium is officially sold out.

Crew SC president of business operations Andy Loughnane addressed the fanbase in a blog post on the club’s official site Monday afternoon and said, “As of late this morning we are sold out of the extra capacity seating that was created for MLS Cup at MAPFRE Stadium. While there is a small chance that additional seats could be released for purchase as a result of MLS holds being returned, we are sold out of all known available seats.”

[ MORE: Beckham group abandons yet another stadium plan, site in Miami ]

Crew SC, making their second MLS Cup appearance in club history (2008 champions), will host first-time MLS Cup contestants, the Portland Timbers, on Sunday.

PL clubs combined to pay out $200 million in agent fees in 2015

Liverpool Unveil New Signing Christian Benteke
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What a time to be an agent in the footballing world, eh? The rich just keep getting richer and richer and richer.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

The steady increase in transfer fees being paid for players — bad, good, great and amazing alike — has made quite a few “selling” clubs rich reach over the last decade or two, to be sure, but it’s also made another group of people obscenely rich: player agents.

As the soccer world has gone crazy with its “now, now, now” approach — managers must win now, or they’re fired; new signings must become stars now, or they’ll be sold; etc. — agents are the ones making out like bandits — no losses to be sustained on players who turn out to be flops; no future loss of wages due to taking “too long” to settle in and being labeled a flop — at the expense of clubs and, most cruelly, the players.

More than $195 million was paid out agents by Premier League clubs across the January and summer transfer windows, with Liverpool — ever the club in constant change — paying out $21.5 million in agents fees to remain top of the table for a second straight year. Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal were the four other clubs to top $15 million.

[ MORE: Premier League Payback — The Diego Costa era over at Chelsea? ]

Agents not only receive a fee when players change clubs through transfers, but can only be compensated again and again when one of their clients signs a new contract with their current club.

For instance, Wayne Rooney has signed at least four new contracts since joining Manchester United in 2004, the latest of which came barely three years after he was given a new five-year deal in Oct. 2010 upon handing in a transfer request in an attempt to force a move to Manchester City. Rooney’s current weekly wage is reported to be in the neighborhood of $450,000. His agent, Paul Stretford, will have received a sizable payday upon negotiating the deal in Feb. 2014.

At the end of the day, sports are little more than a business, and it’s the ones who play the game — the political game, that is — the best, and most ruthlessly, who are making out like bandits.