Wednesday January 11 2012
The chief of defence

Initially signed as a squad player last January, Andrea Barzagli is now an unexpected key element in Juventus’ Scudetto bid. Antonio Labbate writes.

Fabio Cannavaro had no doubts when he was asked earlier this season who, at the time, was Italy’s best defender. “Andrea Barzagli,” he responded with conviction. “He has experience and he has picked himself up after a difficult spell. I’ve congratulated Juventus President Andrea Agnelli for bringing him back to Italy. That was an excellent move.”

Cannavaro knows Barzagli well. They were teammates at the 2006 World Cup when Andrea, under the guidance of the Italy captain, played his part in the Azzurri’s German triumph following injury to Alessandro Nesta and suspension to Marco Materazzi.

Barzagli had just turned 25 and was widely considered as an international regular of the future. Things didn’t quite turn out as anticipated. In 2008 he decided to leave Palermo and was expected to move on to a bigger club which could match his ambitions. Instead he ended up at Wolfsburg in Germany.

“After four years at Palermo it was time to go,” the centre-back recalled. “There was an agreement between myself and the Rosanero that we would part company. I was waiting for a big club to come in for me, but they all had excellent defenders already. Wolfsburg offered me a good contract and I decided to sign for them.”

The Bundesliga switch may have benefitted him financially and saw him win a League title, but it came at a cost in his homeland. The longer he remained abroad, the more forgettable he became. He then disappeared from the international scene completely after a pretty shaky performance in Italy’s unconvincing 2-1 win against Cyprus back in September 2008.

It wasn’t until this time last year that Barzagli entered Italian football’s consciousness again. With a contract coming to its end, Juventus opted to net him for €300,000 – less than three years after Wolfsburg agreed to pay almost €12m. He was initially signed on a contract until 2013 as a squad player, but today he’s one of the cornerstones on which the Old Lady’s Scudetto bid is built.

So far this season under Antonio Conte he’s been an untouchable in the team. He’s played in every second of the side’s Serie A campaign, totalling 1,618 minutes of action – a stat only matched by right-back Stephan Lichtsteiner. He also featured in the 120 minutes that it took his team to dispose of Bologna in the Coppa Italia.

“It’s down to hard work,” Barzagli says of his rejuvenation. “As a player, there are seasons which go well. Saying that, joining a club like Juventus is the maximum for anyone. I just do what I need to do on a daily basis to make sure that I deserve to wear this shirt.”

Barzagli may not have great speed or even the technical ability of current centre-back partner Leonardo Bonucci, but what he does have over his younger colleague is focus, positional sense, as well as an understanding and reading of the game which he has acquired over the years. He’s also disciplined given that his last booking came in May last season in the game against Napoli.

As it stands, Juventus have the second best defence in the land with 11 goals against – just one more than Udinese. They’ve kept a clean sheet in their last three Serie A games and six from their last eight. The last goal they conceded was against Roma in Week 15 – 355 minutes ago – when Arturo Vidal miserably failed to clear a Daniele De Rossi effort. Not bad stats from a team whose defence was viewed as their Achilles’ heel at the start of the season.

“We all have to stay alert and concentrated,” the 30-year-old says. “As soon as the defenders lose focus for an instant then things can get complicated. But Coach Conte is always stimulating us and that is important for a defender like myself. We have a great midfield, a great attack and if we at the back don’t concede then one of our strikers will put the ball in sooner or later.”

Barzagli’s form hasn’t been lost on Italy boss Cesare Prandelli either. Dealing with a shortage of quality stoppers, an area that the Italian game once excelled at, the former Under-21 international returned to the international stage in October 2011 to win his 26th and 27th caps. “I didn’t think that my Azzurri career was a closed book, but I admit that I did stop thinking about it…”

Euro 2012 now awaits, as does a possible Scudetto and a probable new contract.

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Have your say...
And what about his partner Giorgio Chiellini ? Barzagli isn't the only defender on the team, that being said he is average, not world class.
on the 12th January, 2012 at 2:12pm
he's ok.
on the 12th January, 2012 at 12:14am
wow antonio says jump and you all say how high. Barzagli is ok and that is it. You're all jumping on the bandwagon now. Juve as a team are playing better defensively and a lot of credit goes 2 the midfielders and strikers running back. I guarentee that the day when Juventus are beaten that Barzagli will suddenly become the one to blame. He is not an indivdual talent, just a guy in a good team. Good defenders are guys like Nesta (of old), Canna, Lucio etc.
on the 11th January, 2012 at 8:39pm
Good player he did well at Wolfsburg at the beginning in all fairness, to win a title in Germany with someone other than Bayern is a great achievment, I don't think he was ever forgotten he just had a poor last 2 years at Wolfsburg so didn't merit a call up. Bonucci, however, what a terrible player they should sell him asap to a Russian side who will pay over the odds and get someone better.
on the 11th January, 2012 at 5:02pm
Quite simply one of the most under-rated defenders in Serie A, the talk is always of Thiago Silva, which is granted. He is Mr Consistency personified and agree with all the comments above by my fellow Juve fans. I want to congratulate and applaud the board for sanctioning a move for Andrea, also full credit to Antonio Conte for showing faith, lets face it, our defence has not been the greatest the last two seasons.

Forza Juve e Forza Andrea!
on the 11th January, 2012 at 4:01pm
Definitely a fine piece of business done by Juve. He has been tremendous for this side.
on the 11th January, 2012 at 3:45pm
One of the best, and least expensive, pieces of business that Juve has conducted. I thought he would be nothing more than a squad player, but he's surpassed all expectations.
on the 11th January, 2012 at 2:09pm
Personally I never rated him. He is a good player and that's it. I'd say his rejuvenation is equally a consequence of playing in a well-organised side and the Juve of old consistently managed to bring the best out of players that were not world class. Barzagli belongs to the group of defenders like Torricelli, Iuliano and Birindelli that were lifted by playing in a great team rather than because of their individual talents.
on the 11th January, 2012 at 1:38pm
Juve should have bought years ago when he was at Palermo, I hope Juve do all they can to keep him at the club, with what will likely be his last contract before he retires.
on the 11th January, 2012 at 1:27pm
When Juventus board signed him I knew he was a good player but now I think he is one of best recruit Juventus made in many years !!!

I hope Bonucci will learn from him because he needs to....

Forza Andrea & Forza Juve !
on the 11th January, 2012 at 1:06pm
I remember being impressed with this fantastic piece of business last year - replacing Legrottaglie with a player considerably more talented and considerably younger, and at such a remarkably low cost. Juve have overspent massively on many players the last few years, but Barzagli has to be the best value-for-money player they've brought in, aside from Pirlo of course. He's not flashy perhaps but has been consistently strong and I think he's also helping to bring Bonucci on as well. Good article!
on the 11th January, 2012 at 12:30pm
In my point,
Barzagli is the best defender, currently, in Serie A. Finally, his years of experienced paid off, and it did very well.

Forza Andrea !
on the 11th January, 2012 at 11:59am

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