While Juventus have been keeping active in this summer transfer window rebuilding a new-look side for the future, it appears a return for Leonardo Bonucci is very much in the pipeline. But is it worth Juve giving up Mattia Caldara - one of Italy’s brightest prospects - to re-sign a 31-year-old defender?
Bonucci stunned Juve before the start of last season by joining Serie A rivals AC Milan for a fee of €42 million, this left a bitter taste in the mouths of many Bianconeri. The departure came as a shock after the centre-back played a pivotal role in the core of the Juventus defence for seven years - helping win six consecutive Serie A Scudetti, three Coppa Italia titles and reaching two Champions League finals in three years.
But since the 4-1 loss to Real Madrid last year, the reported halftime bust-up in the final between Bonucci and some of his former teammates only dampened his relationship with the club. If the Old Lady is to re-sign Bonucci, the relationship between the defender, team, Coach and the club’s fans may still be fragile.
Moving to San Siro to transform Milan as Andrea Pirlo had done when moving the other way, the past season didn’t pan out how the Rossoneri captain had envisaged. Milan finished in sixth place in Serie A, crashed out to Arsenal in the Last 16 of the Europa League and ownership problems were brewing behind the scenes.
Set against that backdrop it’s not difficult to comprehend why Bonucci wants a return to Turin. The 2016 Serie A Footballer of the Year wants to be back competing on the domestic and Champions League stages and is even willing to accept a pay cut. However, the Caldara-Bonucci swap doesn’t seem to make sense from a Juventus point of view, especially the part that involves selling Caldara to a direct rival.
The Bianconeri been lauded for their wisdom when it comes to undertaking transfer business, however, this time Milan could reap the benefits from this proposed deal. Caldara is currently in better form than Bonucci, having been consistently exceptional for Atalanta over the past two seasons. The Italian youngster is tipped to be the long-term replacement for Juventus captain Giorgio Chiellini and Andrea Barzagli - that’s why the Serie A giants invested in the 24-year-old in 2017. The Bergamo-born defender has already experienced Europa League football with La Dea and is now eyeing the opportunity to ply his trade in this season’s Champions League with his new club.
A quiet achiever, the Atalanta academy product is a complete modern day centre-back most Coaches dream of having at their disposal: strong in clean tackles, good at ball interceptions and a set-piece threat in aerial situations. Why would the Bianconeri want to let go of a defender who boasts great qualities and can hone them alongside none other than veteran defender Chiellini?
The fact that Caldara played exceptionally well for a smaller Serie A club - alongside average defenders - indicates he is a capable leader and adaptable defender. However, Bonucci isn’t as versatile as most calcio fans think. The Italian international has thrived in the past BBC partnership at Juventus and the Azzurri, but this past season suggested that 31-year-old generally struggled without Chiellini and Barzagli by his side.
Bonucci returning to the reigning Serie A champions may bring immediate and short-term success, especially in the club’s quest to claim a third Champions League title. But let’s face it, both Chiellini and Barzagli are not getting any younger and will not be far off from hanging their boots up. If Bonucci moves back to Turin, who will play alongside the Italian when Chiellini and Barzagli leave? Daniele Rugani might be an option, but he too might leave sooner than expected. If this Caldara-Bonucci swap goes ahead, it will only highlight the major issue calcio currently faces - the young Italian talent being pushed aside to accommodate older players.
The safe option for the Bianconeri here would be to keep Caldara and give this talented youngster a chance to prove himself at a high calibre club like Juventus.