Maurizio Sarri has been pushing for a reunion with ex-Empoli centre-back Daniele Rugani for three years and could finally get his wish at Chelsea.
First Leonardo Bonucci, now Gianluigi Buffon and Stephan Lichtsteiner. In the past few seasons Juventus have suffered some big losses in defence. Luckily for the Bianconeri their squad depth, as well as Massimiliano Allegri’s tactical flexibility, mean that so far the Turin giants’ backline is still one of their biggest strengths. This is crucial for any side, but even more so for Juventus, as the defence has always been the backbone of the team.
Putting Allegri’s tactical brilliance aside, Juve’s ability to bounce back and keep oppositions at bay week in and week out was mainly due to the presence of the experienced heads in the team. Buffon, Giorgio Chiellini and Andrea Barzagli have seen it all and know how to act when it matters most, but the presence of Medhi Benatia and Rugani in the team has also been crucial.
Benatia has done well with the tough task of replacing Bonucci in the heart of Juve’s defence, becoming arguably the side’s best defender last year. However, the Moroccan’s bad habit of making an occasional mistake in crucial games has proved costly, as his clumsy tackle on Lucas Vazquez resulted in the controversial penalty that crushed Juve’s Champions League hopes, while he was also guilty of losing Kalidou Koulibaly in the penalty area for Napoli’s goal which almost cost them the Scudetto.
And while Juve are still hesitating, if they should keep or sell Benatia, the reports suggesting that Chelsea are close to completing a deal for Rugani should worry the fans more.
The 23-year-old has seen limited playing time in the last few seasons, as he has registered fewer than 30 appearances in each of the last three campaigns. However, the ex-Empoli man has shown extraordinary calm and ability almost every time he has stepped onto the field and, considering his age, Rugani can only get better.
This season Rugani averaged a 90.9% pass success rate, which was the second best amongst the defenders in the team, with only Barzagli topping it with a remarkable 93%. However, considering that Barzagli is 37years old and unfortunately for the defender age has finally started catching up with him, his playing time will probably be very limited next term. This means that if Rugani stays, he’ll be Juve’s most reliable defender to play the ball out from the back.
The arrival of Mattia Caldara from Atalanta will increase the competition for places in defence, but the thought of Caldara and Rugani forming a long-term partnership at the heart of Juve’s back-line is a mouthwatering one. Caldara’s tenacity, aerial dominance and pure physical prowess would be perfectly complemented by Rugani’s composure, intelligence and on-the-ball ability.
And while the Caldara-Rugani partnership seems like a long-term future prospect, the idea of Rugani partnering Chiellini makes sense for the upcoming campaigntoo. King Kong is probably the perfect tutor for fixing one of the few flaws in Rugani’s game - his physicality. Playing more often alongside his veteran colleague would give Rugani the perfect chance to add this nastiness that almost every great defender has in his game. He famously went through an entire season at Empoli without receiving a yellow card, but was that because he anticipated the moves or just didn’t dive in to the at times necessary tackles?
Considering Rugani’s talent, current ability and margin for improvement, the reported €35m that Chelsea are willing to pay for his services are not even close to what he is worth to the future of Juve and Italian football. Moving to the Premier League at this point would be a huge risk for Rugani, as despite his abilities, the chances of him struggling at the start and ending up on the bench at some point are quite big.
According to the reports, Juventus are preparing a bid for Diego Godin and while the Atletico Madrid veteran is undoubtedly one of the best defenders in the world, he is 32years old. Considering the transfer fee and the wages that Godin would command, such move would be incredibly costly for a player of that age and a huge step back in Juve’s future plans.
It remains to be seen if Benatia stays or not, but either way keeping Rugani should be one of Juve’s top priorities this summer, as too many Italian talents have been under-appreciated and sacrificed in order to make room for expensive foreign player. Therefore, Juventus must not put Rugani in to that narrative. He is just too good.