Plight of Europe's league-winning managers shows domestic success is no longer enough for teams chasing UCL glory

Aditya Devavrat 08:07 28/05/2019
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  • Allegri may not be the only league-winning manager to leave his club this summer.

    Massimiliano Allegri is leaving Juventus having won the Serie A title in each of his five seasons in charge of the club, and a league-and-cup double in four of those seasons. Ernesto Valverde is on thin ice at Barcelona, despite two La Liga titles in two seasons, and a chance at a second straight double.

    Niko Kovac can relate, having brought Bayern Munich back from a nine-point deficit to win the Bundesliga in his first season in charge – a season that could also end in a double – despite facing constant speculation over his future.

    And though Paris Saint-Germain have yet again dominated in Ligue 1, no one would be surprised if Thomas Tuchel were asked to leave this summer after just one season as manager. He doesn’t even have a double on his resume, after PSG lost the Coupe de France final despite being 2-0 up against Rennes.

    Valverde and Kovac were well-regarded managers making a step up when they joined Barca and Bayern respectively. Allegri had already previously won a Serie A with AC Milan, and though Tuchel’s reputation was bruised by a tumultuous two-year stint at Borussia Dortmund, he was still one of the rising managerial stars in Europe.

    That is to say that these four managers are, and have been for quite some time, among the best managers in the circuit. Arguably, outside of Pep Guardiola, Jose Mourinho, Antonio Conte, Zinedine Zidane, Jurgen Klopp, and Mauricio Pochettino, there aren’t any who would come ahead of these four in any team’s wishlist.

    So what does it mean for top-level football that the league-winning managers in four of Europe’s top five leagues, with the reputations to match, will either be out of a job this summer – depending on how long it takes Allegri to find his next one – or will enter next season with swords hanging over their heads.

    And it’s all down to one thing: the Champions League. Does domestic success count for nothing any more?

    Valverde’s Barcelona have surrendered three-goal first-leg leads in the knockout stages of the competition in both of his seasons. Bayern Munich haven’t been past the semi-finals since they completed a treble in 2013.

    Juventus have been to the finals twice under Allegri – better than they ever managed under Conte, but a quarter-final exit in the season they signed Cristiano Ronaldo, winner of five European titles and three in a row before this season, was below expectations.

    And Tuchel’s PSG blew a 2-0 lead by losing to Manchester United 3-1 at home in the round of 16 – the first time a team has lost after winning the first leg away from home by two goals. It’s in keeping with PSG’s history in the competition; this is the team that blew a 4-0 lead to Barcelona in 2017 and, last year, had a 1-0 lead over Real Madrid in the first leg away and were at 1-1 with seven minutes to go; they lost 3-1 on the night, and 5-2 on aggregate. Tuchel was supposed to come in and reverse that record, and in his first season, failed.

    Winning the Champions League has become the ultimate dream for every team. It has overtaken domestic glory.

    Even Klopp’s Liverpool, who haven’t won the league since 1990 and are desperate to end that barren spell, will consider this, a campaign in which they felt short of that goal by a point, a great season if they win next week’s final against Tottenham, and a really good, if heartbreaking, one if they don’t.

    Real Madrid are another case in point. Last season they finished 17 points behind La Liga winners Barcelona. They’ve won the league twice this decade. But four European titles in five seasons, and three in a row, was enough to overshadow any failure on the home front. And it was only after they crashed out this season that Santiago Solari was finally sacked.

    European triumph adds a legitimacy to clubs like PSG and Guardiola’s Man City, a sense that they are truly worthy of a seat among the big boys. For the clubs like Madrid, Bayern, Juventus, and Barcelona, it is a reaffirmation of their status as Europe’s royalty.

    There will always be a sense of achievement to finish a gruelling 38-game (or 36-game, in Bayern’s case) better than everyone else, but for clubs that do it every season, that achievement gets diminished.

    Bayern just wrapped up a seventh straight Bundesliga title. Juventus are now on eight in a row. PSG have won six in seven years, Barca eight in 11. When you’re winning something every season, winning loses its charm – especially when you’re not winning the trophy you want to.

    And thus, to answer the question posed earlier, perhaps domestic success doesn’t matter anymore. At least not as much, and not when, for these clubs, it’s become so common.

    Tuchel, Valverde, Kovac, and Allegri might be among the best managers in the world, but at the moment they’re victims of their own success. Until they can outdo themselves, they may always be looking over their shoulder.