AC Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri could not help casting an eye to the future to his team’s glamour ties against Real Madrid ahead of his personal Champions League bow on Wednesday.
Milan host Auxerre in their first Group G match at the San Siro but with Real and Ajax also to contend with, Allegri was struggling to keep his mind on matters at hand.
“Certainly, those are fascinating matches,” Allegri, speaking to UEFA.com, said of the upcoming Real clashes on October 19 and November 3.
“At the same time, games like that give you the right mindset to tackle the Champions League from the very start.”
One person Allegri is particularly looking forward to pitting his wits against is Madrid boss Jose Mourinho, who he knows well from the Portuguese’s time at Inter Milan.
“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,” added Allegri.
“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.”
Allegri has come a long way to be lining up opposite Mourinho in the Champions League.
When the self-styled ‘Special One’ was guiding Porto to the Champions League title in 2004, Allegri was beginning his first coaching job at Aglianese in the fourth tier of Italian football.
But his rise has been rapid and following two seasons with Cagliari in Serie A, he was given the chance to lead Milan.
“It means a lot to me; it’s a great satisfaction. This is now my third year in Serie A and coaching this prestigious club is just fantastic,” he said.
“They’re the club with the most trophies in the world, and I think we have a very strong and competitive team this season.
“As a coach, to rise through those levels (the lower leagues) is good, you experience the differences and variety, and when you reach the higher levels the things you learnt help you in your work.”
One thing that is completely new for him, though, is managing star players such as his two new signings, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Robinho.
And although they flopped on their Serie A debuts on Saturday as Milan were humbled 2-0 by tiny Cesena, Allegri believes they will be a big plus for his team this season.
“It’s important because they strengthen and complete our attacking power, but we also lost one striker in (Marco) Borriello,” he said.
“Ibrahimovic is physically strong and Robinho has a lot of skills as well.”
But while Milan may come into this on the back of a poor defeat, they are in far better shape than their visitors.
Auxerre are stuck down near the foot of the French table after failing to win any of their first five matches.
Four draws and a defeat has left them hovering one place above the drop zone courtesy only of being ahead of Bordeaux alphabetically.
If there is a silver lining to the cloud it’s that they had the same number of points at this stage last season and went on to finish third.
This is only their third qualification for the Champions League, compared to Milan who have won the competition seven times, and they have arguably landed the toughest group.
In 1996/97 they reached the quarter-finals on their debut only to be eliminated by eventual winners Borussia Dortmund in the quarter-finals.
In 2002/03 they didn’t make it past the group stages despite beating Arsenal at Highbury.
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