Can Alessio Turn Kilmarnock’s Season Around?
Background Image: Leslie Barrie, CC BY-SA 2.0
When Angelo Alessio pitched up at Kilmarnock in June, he had big shoes to fill. Outgoing manager Steve Clarke was bound for the Scotland job after leading Killie to European qualification for the first time in 18 years.
If anyone could build on Clarke’s sterling work, Alessio seemed a solid choice. Here was a man with coaching experience at the highest level. The Italian served as Antonio Conte's assistant at Chelsea, Juventus and with Italy. The 54-year-old promised to build on Clarke's three years of good work with “meticulous coaching” and attractive, positive football.
A Bumpy Start
Despite pre-season excitement, things didn't go as planned. Alessio’s first competitive fixtures came in Europa League qualifying. Excited Killie fans were already booking trips to Belgrade to see their team take on Partizan in the next round only for Welsh part-timers Connah’s Quay to dump Kilmarnock out with a 3-2 aggregate win. The result was quickly labelled the worst in Kilmarnock’s history.
After three Scottish Premier League games, Killie languish at the bottom of the table on a single point. Can Alessio save the season and, perhaps more importantly for Scottish football, his job?
If he is to stand any chance, Alessio's first task is to bulk up his squad. After losing a slew of key players over the summer, Kilmarnock brought in a handful of loan signings from the likes of Liverpool and Juventus. Yet, the side has less depth than the kiddie pool at the local leisure centre. Killie were transformed from potential Old Firm challengers to relegation candidates once Clarke and several important squad members departed. A single centre forward on the books along with deficiencies in almost every other position hardly make a recipe for success.
The problem could worsen. Highly-rated left-back Greg Taylor is the target in a bidding war between Celtic and Sunderland. Alessio publicly opposed Taylor’s departure but the board might be tempted by a big offer. Taylor won't be the first key player to jump ship on the Italian's watch. Jordan Jones provided a sound attacking threat under Clarke. The 24-year-old winger left for Rangers in July.
Further, the boss must shake off the cultural jetlag that's afflicted him since arriving in Scotland. This is not a top European league; this is the Scottish Premiership, a league dominated by no-nonsense centre-halves and strikers who, if you met them in a Glasgow pub, would probably be nicknamed Clubber or Martin the Murderer. Alessio’s technical style could pay dividends in the long run but he needs to build slowly, allowing his players to work up to his tactical model while incorporating sheer physicality into his "meticulous plans", at least in the interim.
After the Europa League defeat, Alessio disparaged his opponent's physical style but he could learn a thing or two from the Connah’s Quay boss. Andy Morrison steered his club to unprecedented domestic and European success thanks to a squad largely comprising uncultured bruisers and cutthroats.
Alessio needs to think differently. He should spend less time courting high-profile, foreign signings. The gaffer trotted out the tired line about “every club wanting the same player” but he'd be well advised to scour the lower leagues, Scottish and English, for talent. There are diamonds to be unearthed from those slag heaps. Kilmarnock can bolster their squad with astute signings from Northampton rather than Napoli, Queens Park rather than Queens Park Rangers.
Clubs across Scotland are proving the point. The Scottish Premiership’s top scorers include Motherwell’s Liam Donnelly who began his career with Dungannon Swifts and Aberdeen’s Sam Cosgrave, signed from Carlisle United. Alessio seems hellbent on taking players exclusively from big European clubs, a policy which will surely cost him his job if he persists.
Anyone with a vested interest in Scottish football should be hoping Alessio can turn things around. He’s the only manager from beyond the British Isles. If the league is going to progress, bringing highly qualified coaches like Alessio into the country is essential.
The Italian's reign at Kilmarnock started badly but the season is young. A good result or two can carry them to the table's top end. Alessio can still deliver flowing, Serie A-style football to Ayrshire providing he’s willing to hold his nose, make concessions in his tactical approach and act quickly to bring in appropriate reinforcements. Anything less than points on the board in the immediate future will ensure his next stop is Kilmarnock’s Jobcentre Plus.