Daniele Rugani is a name that instantly carries expectation and drives conversation amongst calcio fans. Since his breakout season for Empoli in Serie B, the Tuscan stopper has been earmarked as the next great Italian defender, ready to continue a tradition that has seen Italian football produce many of the best defenders the game has seen.
During the 2013-2014 season, under the guidance of a certain Maurizio Sarri, Rugani won the Serie B young player of the year after helping Empoli secure a second place finish and promotion. The following season would see Rugani further enhance his reputation, cementing himself as one of the brightest young players in Europe. Appearing in every single minute of Empoli’s 38 games, he would go the season without being booked, playing with a consistency and a maturity way beyond his 20 years. These displays prompted Juventus to purchase full ownership of the player during the January transfer window, leaving him on loan at the Stadio Carlo Castellani for the remainder of the season.
Rugani returned to Juventus the following summer, a move that was met with scepticism from some quarters as many wondered how he would find space in a defence that was comprised of three of the world’s best in Andrea Barzagli, Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci. Competing with that calibre of player along with the likes of Patrice Evra, Martin Caceres and more recently Medhi Benatia has predictably seen Rugani limited to just 22 league starts over the last two seasons.
Rugani has been patient and positive during this time, with the player and club rejecting any potential exit. Rugani insisted he was in the right place, learning from the “unbelievable” BBC while also praising Max Allegri for encouraging him to continue working as his time would come.
The current campaign started following a summer of surprises, none bigger than the move of Bonucci from Juventus to rivals Milan. Despite the blow, fans of the Bianconeri were comforted by the fact they already had a potentially great replacement in Rugani. Fans and media agreed, it was time for Rugani to step up; however it seems one man needs convincing a little more than most and, unfortunately for Rugani, he is the man who matters most: Max Allegri.
The Coach has continually tinkered with his centre-back pairings. With Chiellini seemingly the only permanent fixture, it has been left to Rugani, Barzagli and Benatia to fight for the other spot. While there are no complaints when the veteran Barzagli is paired with Chiellini, the same cannot be said for Benatia, whose performances for the Turin club have been less than convincing over the last season.
Italian international Rugani has featured from start to finish in 5 games this season, those coming against Cagliari, Genoa, Chievo, Sassuolo and most recently Fiorentina. Aside from the odd moment of indecision Rugani has played these game with assurance, intelligence and composure, something we have come to expect from the 23-year-old. Meanwhile, Benatia has also started 5 games with these appearances including games against Lazio in the Italian Super Cup, Barcelona in the Champions League, the Turin derby against Torino and most recently a tricky away tie against a bright Atalanta.
Benatia has continued to be far from convincing in his displays this season, however so far in the more difficult fixtures Allergi has favoured going with a more physically dominant centre back in Benatia over the less powerful but more intelligent Rugani. This choice is becoming a point of increasing frustration for Juventini, as it seems every time the former Bayern Munich and Roma centre back appears in the Juventus back line it coincides with mistakes, uncertainty and ultimately the conceding of goals (eight in the five games he has started in comparison to three in the five Rugani has started).
Rugani has previously stated that Allegri told him to be “more aggressive”, could this be the reason why the defender is finding himself out of the team in the bigger fixtures? Or, on the back of two seasons of limited playing time, is Allegri easing the youngster into proceedings before making him a constant fixture for the rest of the season? If there is a reason none appear valid enough at this stage for Rugani to be left on the sidelines.
A regular pick for national squad, it’s time that Allegri made Rugani a regular in the Juventus starting XI. The player was previously labelled as “the future of Juventus and Italian football” by his Coach.
The future is now, and Daniele Rugani needs to play, be it at Juventus or another club.