Let’s be honest here. If you were not a follower of Serie A (i.e. almost everyone), Leonardo Bonucci only came into your radar after his displays for Italy last summer at the Euros.
And for good reason, too. He was arguably the best defender in that competition (although Pepe also gets in with a fair shout). Bonucci’s passes out-of-the-back were phenomenal, both in terms of the effect it had on opposition defences and as a spectacle. He was the surprise iron-clad leader of the Italian National Team, even being given the responsibility of taking the penalties. Penalties which, mind you, the legendary Gigi Buffon was too afraid to even watch.
After the Euros, he was the most sought after defender in the world. Chelsea and Manchester City were the two frontrunners in the race to sign him, according to many reports. Bids were made in excess of £50 million, which even in this market, was a bit over the top, though far from being the most ridiculous transfer idea ever, since this transfer takes that title.
This summer, even though Man City seem to have quieted down in their pursuit, Chelsea are still very keen on the Juventus player, according to the latest reports. It makes some sense, as Antonio Conte is the manager who brought the defender to his prominence as a defensive stalwart for the Old Lady.
However, it’s not the most feasible move in the world. Bonucci’s best days may be behind him already. He’s already experienced two UCL finals, and experienced two defeats. His Italy team that he led by example in the Euros fell at the hands of the Germans in the quarter-finals. And he’s won more Serie A titles in the past few years than Milan and Inter fans would like to know. Of course, moving to Real Madrid or Barcelona (or even Bayern) would make sense in that it shows that he wants to win the Champions League, but Chelsea are not in that position to immediately be considered one of the favorites for Europe’s elite footballing competition. Not if Conte’s prior record in the UCL is anything to go by.
In this sense, this move would be a bit reminiscent of Fernando Torres’ £50 million move to Stamford Bridge on deadline day in the winter transfer window of 2011. Torres failed to live up to the expectations put on him, although Chelsea fans worldwide and I still consider his goal against Barcelona in the semi-finals of the UCL worth every penny of the ridiculous transfer fee we spent on him.
Bonucci’s move could also further burden Conte in terms of team-selection, as the Italian defender is accustomed to playing at the center of a back three, where David Luiz is currently a regular. Antonio Conte has not been shy in speaking out about the ‘warrior’ Luiz and how much he appreciates him, which may perhaps lead him to field the Brazilian on the left of the 3 and bench Gary Cahill, as benching Cesar Azpilicueta is not something anybody can even remotely contemplate. Everything is an uncertainty as far as Luiz is concerned, so this tactical switch represents a sizable gamble that Conte has to take to appease all of his available options.
However, perhaps the biggest question-mark over Bonucci’s reported move to Chelsea should be over his style of play. Although the Italian defender is a touch of class in terms of passing and making clever interceptions, he’s not a rough tackler, with an average of just a tackle per game in these past few seasons with Juve.
The Premier League can be, at times, beautifully tactical, but in its very core it is a tug-of-war between two physically daunting sides in games that sometimes run from one-end-of-the-pitch to another more times than one can count. Pace and tackle-happy are two important traits needed to be successful as a defender in the Premier League. Especially now, more than ever before. This is what has led to the omission of John Terry from Chelsea’s starting line-up, what led the tactically sound defender Martin Demichelis to being ‘found-out’ by the young Marcus Rashford. And it is also why Eric Bailly has adjusted to the Premier League spectacularly, so spectacularly, in fact, that he’s being compared to the iconic Nemanja Vidic already.
Bonucci is a world-class defender in a world where there aren’t too many of them left. But he’s also 30-years-old. In other words, that’s the age when you move to Serie A, rather than from. His lack of genuine pace, combined with his weakness in aerial duels, and his preference of interceptions over tackles could make him a failure in a league that demands its players be phenomenal athletes, as well as capable footballers.