Winding the clock back two summers ago to a very bizarre transfer window in Italy, Leonardo Bonucci – a fundamental pillar in the famed ‘BBC’ of the Azzurri and Bianconeri - left for Milan after a falling out with manager Massimiliano Allegri. In return, but in a separate operation, once-promising full-back Mattia De Sciglio became Juventus property.
At the time, the Rossoneri appeared to have robbed The Old Lady rotten, acquiring one of the game’s top central defenders, equipped with the ball-playing skills few on European soil could rival. Except, as we would soon find out, the 31-year-old Bonucci would become a shell of his former self.
With Bonucci and his controversial Milan switch, there was always some doubt hanging over his head about whether he was in fact a by-product of the Juventus system that bred and moulded him into the star defender we came to know. His early struggles under Vincenzo Montella supported this claim and further cemented the idea of Giorgio Chiellini’s worth towards Bonucci’s success in the top flight.
Despite settling in and forging a strong relationship with Alessio Romagnoli in the second half of 2017-18 after Gennaro Gattuso took over the post, it was clear Bonucci was best suited for not only Juve’s system, but their quest for Champions League glory.
After a below-par season in Milano, Bonucci reclaimed not only his white and black shirt, but more importantly, his top form – which has gone a long way to patch up his relationship with the supporters.
However, one could argue that of the two players involved in the colour swap of summer 2017, De Sciglio has been more refreshing to see perform by raising his game to levels reminiscent of when he first burst onto the scene under Allegri at Milan back in 2012-13 as a scraggly, baby-faced teenager drawing comparisons to the legendary Paolo Maldini.
Once De Sciglio sealed his €12m transfer to Juventus, you immediately got the sense that if there was any manager to tap in to his full potential and make him a key player, it was Allegri.
A player once low on confidence and visibly fazed by ‘the New Maldini’ hype that surrounded him through the Primavera and into Milan’s first team, De Sciglio’s journey back to form has been a long one, as his mental coach Stefano Tirelli explained in a 2016 interview with La Gazzetta dello Sport that he was “on the verge of depression.”
Tirelli, a professor from the Catholic University of Milan, was sent by De Sciglio’s parents to help him move past the criticism from fans and media, and do what he loved with a smile on his face.
Though injuries kept him on the shelf for an extended period last season, and limited him to roughly 1,500 minutes across all competitions, the 26-year-old has carved out an important role in what Juventus hopes will be a trophy-laden campaign ending with a spot atop the Champions League podium later this year.
As Serie A’s best defensive unit, with 11 goals allowed through 19 matches, Juventus are as good as any in this department. With Bonucci sliding back into his central role to partner Chiellini, and De Sciglio providing support to Joao Cancelo, it is clear to see the Bianconeri’s strength in numbers at the back.
Despite the scrutiny that came with his return, there was little doubt about whether Bonucci could re-establish his place at Juventus and feel at home once again. But for De Sciglio, because of his turbulent career dealing with injuries, mental health struggles and an unfair burden of being compared to Maldini, it is extra fruitful for Juventini to reap the rewards of putting trust in a talent needing only the trust from his Coach, club and supporters to deliver on his potential.