It is not so much a road less travelled that has led Angelo Alessio to pitch up at Kilmarnock as a road never travelled.
It is impossible to avoid head-scratching over how on earth the 54-year-old, having effectively served as consiglieri to Antonio Conte for a near decade as the pair took charge at Siena, Juventus, the Italian national team and Chelsea, could consider the Rugby Park club as the perfect fit for a move into top flight frontline management.
The former Juventus and Bari midfielder didn’t exactly pull up trees with a spell bouncing around Serie C courtesy of short coaching spells at Imolese, Massese and SPAL in the middle of the last decade. He did, though, demonstrate he was prepared to knuckle down in challenging circumstances. These await Alessio in facing the impossible task of bettering the third place Kilmarnock achieved under Steve Clarke with more than the pilot of the club’s best league finish in 53 years likely to have soon flown from the Ayrshire club.
The urbane coach, who has brought fellow Italian Massimo Donati on to a technical staff wherein Clarke’s assistant Alex Dyer will continue in that role, knows what he is taking on in Ayrshire, which is far removed from the cosmopolitan surrounds he enjoyed in London. He embraces the test though. “In my life, I love risk,” Alessio said. “Often I take risks. It’s part of my life. After eight years [with Antonio Conte], I came out of the comfort zone.”
Yet, what he had with the man who is reported to have said he was “crazy” not to join him at Internacionale was not simply a cushy number. “Antonio kept all his staff under pressure. The staff have to work at the same level. If one member of staff is down, ‘okay, bye, bye guy’. You know. Siena was a small club. But our attitude was the same there as it was at Juventus. I know only one road if you want to be successful – hard work every single day. No matter where you are.”
To be successful you also need players. And with a Europa League first-round qualifier against Welsh club Connah’s Quay Nomads in two and a half weeks, he needs them now. Yet these are thin on the ground at Kilmarnock, and could become thinner with transfer speculation surrounding Scotland quartet Stephen O’Donnell, Eamonn Brophy, Greg Taylor and Stuart Findlay.
“I’m worried. Of course,” he said. “They have to think about their careers but I think the club can make sure they stay.
“If a player comes to me tomorrow and says ‘Hey boss, I want to leave’ it will be difficult for me. I think Kilmarnock can stay in the top six and of course I want to keep my best players.”
Additions, he accepts, may have to be recruited by wading into the loan market. “‘In this moment we have watched a lot of players to try to strengthen the squad,” he said. “Young players and those with experience. At the first training session we had ten players. Four or five were from reserves. In this moment our focus is on loan players.”
The focus on the incongruity of Alessio managing the Rugby Park club, meanwhile, will prove one of the many intriguing aspects of next season in Scottish football.