When the news of Leonardo Bonucci’s impending departure filtered in, few could hardly believe it. The centre-back who formed part of arguably the best backline in Europe, the “BBC,” was leaving Juventus to join rivals Milan. The youngest of the group including Giorgio Chiellini, Andrea Barzagli and Gianluigi Buffon, Bonucci’s relationship with Massimiliano Allegri had seemingly reached an impasse and the club chose their tactician and let go of a man who symbolised Juve, albeit Antonio Conte’s Juve.
Sporting the captain’s armband, Bonucci’s transfer to Milan was hailed as the sign of a new era at the legendary club. A side under new management and destined to initiate a hopeful new era, Bonucci was the veteran among youngsters brought in for their great potential. He was the one with the winning mentality; he was going to teach his Milan teammates the secrets Juve had taught him in their quest for continuous and unprecedented domestic success.
While Milan were applauded for pulling off this magnificent piece of business considering how wanted Bonucci was by several other European clubs, Juventus were scrambling to ensure they remained competitive. The defence missed the centre-back, especially in the early days, and the feeling was seemingly mutual as Bonucci struggled to find his feet with his new club. Errors dominated his game and each one was celebrated by bitter Juve fans who abhorred his decision to leave.
While the player eventually settled in and found his feet under coach Gennaro Gattuso, Milan never quite produced the performances expected considering the money spent in the summer transfer market. Meanwhile, a few kilometres away, the Bianconeri were celebrating winning their fourth consecutive domestic double despite heavy competition from Napoli.
Bonucci seemingly realised he’d made a mistake. When news filtered out of his desire to take a salary cut and return to the club where he “grew up,” few could believe it or even desired it. Bonucci may be a formidable centre-back but the fans remained skeptical; they’ve yet to forgive him and his celebrations for his goal against the Old Lady. How could the club even consider giving up a wonderful defensive prospect and youngster Mattia Caldara to bring back a player who chose to captain a rival?
The decision to send Higuain and Caldara to Milan to bring back a little bit of cash and Bonucci makes sense and here’s why. Juventus have been a club forever focused on building for the future but now, they are prioritising the present. Being Champions League finalists and making less in commercial revenue than Inter last year, or even Schalke two years ago, is no longer good enough. This is Juve’s opportunity to dominate in Europe as well as in Italy. They have come close before but armed with a tremendously capable coach, the reigning Ballon d’Or winner and the best backline in Italy if not Europe, the Old Lady will not only be an intimidating name but one that will attract the fans, the trophies and command the respect of their rivals.
Caldara is indeed a wonderful defender but Bonucci is not only a proven winner; he also boasts the playmaking skills Juve missed at the back. Most importantly, he’s ready now. If we forgive him his mistakes at Milan, Bonucci is arguably one of the best ball-playing defenders in the world and affords Juventus the opportunity to not only build from the back, but to be versatile in a tactical sense. With the defender back on the team sheet, Allegri can once again toy with the idea of a three man back-line, which always made this side extra hard to play against. His presence not only alleviates the pressure on midfield but launches the forward line while simultaneously ensuring defensive brilliance, something Caldara cannot do.
More importantly, should Bonucci wish to stick around for while this time around, he can be the man to lead the future generations. Chiellini and Andrea Barzagli won’t be there for many more years but Bonucci is younger and thus can help usher in the new generation, teaching them the way to success — something he was supposed to do as Captain of Milan.
If Juventus can finally win the elusive Champions League trophy they’ve been chasing since 1996, they will not only cement their reputation but their financial future, too. Their brand will grow, their name will intimidate and they can repurchase the players they let get away or find new ones when it’s time to build again. Juventus have a management team whose scouting skills and ability to construct a winning side cannot be underestimated or ever doubted. By letting go of Caldara and bringing back Bonucci, they’re banking on themselves to do well enough to afford to buy the best in the future.
For now, the present counts and the Italians simply cannot wait any longer for European success.