When Pep Guardiola calls you “one of his favourite ever players” and your former boss announces he will be joining Chelsea, transfer talk becomes somewhat inevitable. For Leonardo Bonucci, it likely means a summer of being linked to a role in the expected Catalonian revolution in Manchester, or a reunion with Antonio Conte at Stamford Bridge.
Yet before discussing what the future may hold for the 28-year-old, it is important to acknowledge what prompted those comments from Guardiola, which is also the reason why the Juve man’s place at Euro 2016 is a foregone conclusion.
To be blunt, Bonucci is now arguably the world’s best central defender.
Exaggeration? Hyperbole? A moment of unchecked bias? Absolutely not. Over the past two years, the Viterbo-native has blossomed from error-prone prospect into a cornerstone of Serie A’s meanest defence. While Andrea Barzagli and Giorgio Chiellini have battled with injuries, Max Allegri has replaced Conte on the Bianconeri bench – and then alternated between a three and four-man backline – Bonucci has been the one reliable constant.
For both club and country, the names alongside him have been in a seemingly endless state of flux, yet he remains a dependable and essential figure. His on-ball ability needs no introduction, stepping out from the heart of the defence to become a major part of the Juventus attack, almost assuming the midfield playmaker role when either Claudio Marchisio or Andrea Pirlo have been marked out of a game.
He has also weighed in with key goals, netting vital strikes against Roma, Fiorentina, Lazio and Milan, while his penalty against Inter sealed Juve’s place in the Coppa Italia Final. Even more vital however have been his defensive contributions, with his incredible interception to deny Gonzalo Higuain an almost certain goal at the Juventus Stadium perhaps the defining moment of this year’s Scudetto race.
No Juventus player has made more interceptions, completed more passes or made more clearances than Bonucci this term, while the competition for places in the Italy squad is simply not there. Andrea Ranocchia and Angelo Ogbonna failed to maximise their potential, Barzagli and Chiellini both appear to be approaching the end of their prime years, while Alessio Romagnoli and Daniele Rugani will almost certainly become the future of the Azzurri.
So for now, the national team is fortunate it can rely on Bonucci, because one of Guardiola’s favourites is also Conte’s first choice.
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