Selling Leonardo Bonucci to AC Milan for €40m reflects badly on Juventus

Adam Digby 14/07/2017
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Leonardo Bonucci leaving Juventus is a surprise.

Over the last seven years, supporters and observers of the Bianconeri have watched him grow from a timid, error-prone youngster into one of the most accomplished and admired central defenders in Europe.

Over that same time, the 30-year-old has also matured into a leader, organising the backline, holding his team-mates accountable and occasionally even captaining the side.

Bonucci captaining Juventus last season in Gigi Buffon's absence

Bonucci captaining Juventus last season in Gigi Buffon’s absence

Bonucci captaining Juventus in the absence of Gigi Buffon last season

Yet on Friday morning, it seems he left Juve’s training ground for the last time.

Even more shocking than his departure is the destination. Here is a player that Pep Guardiola – a coach who now has the vast wealth of Manchester City behind him – labelled one of his “all-time favourites.”

Antonio Conte is spending his summer diving into Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich’s vast pockets to reinforce his own squad, he too certainly would not object to seeing Bonucci arrive at Stamford Bridge.

Yet somehow he’s on his way to joining AC Milan instead.

Perhaps the most stunning aspect of the entire saga is the fact all Juve asked for was €40 million.

Yes, while the Bianconeri have seeming turned down bids of almost €70 million over the last twelve months, Gianluca Di Marzio and Italy’s other transfer experts insist they requested just over half that sum from the San Siro outfit.

Giving away the best central defender in the world for €40 million is unforgivably bad business, made worse by the complete wall of silence behind which this deal has been conducted.

Over the last 24 hours, every media outlet has been discussing the proposed move almost exclusively, and rightly so given the magnitude of what it signifies for both clubs and Bonucci himself.

But Juventus have not offered a single comment on the subject, no denial, no explanation, nothing. As a result the speculation spiralled out of control, with the arguments he clearly had with Max Allegri last term cited as major factors in the decision to leave Turin.

Has the relationship between such an experienced and open-minded Coach and a man he identified as a future club captain truly become so toxic over two incidents?

Given the number of times Allegri has exploded on the touchline over what he has witnessed on the field, would he really be unable to manage Bonucci simply because he questioned a substitution and was unhappy at half-time in Cardiff?

That Champions League final was a complete collapse on every level after the break, but Juventus know what it takes to win that trophy.

Allegri gesturing to Bonucci in the Champions League final loss to Real Madrid

They’ve regrouped and relaxed over the summer, adding a simply brilliant signing in Douglas Costa and will be among the very small group of teams given a realistic chance of lifting the trophy at the end of 2017/18.

Over the next weeks and months further explanations and justifications will emerge, but what will ultimately remain is that the Bianconeri will be weaker without Bonucci than they would be with him.

Exacerbating that is seeing yet another top player walk away, the Italy international following Carlos Tevez, Andrea Pirlo, Arturo Vidal, Alvaro Morata and Paul Pogba in leaving Juventus after enjoying success.

Each of those can be explained away quite rationally. Tevez wanted to go home, Pirlo headed to MLS and semi-retirement while Vidal went to one of the continent’s truly elite clubs. Morata’s departure was due to the contractual agreement with Real Madrid that saw him join Juve in the first place, and Pogba (not to mention Mino Raiola) simply preferred huge bags of Premier League cash to life in Italy.

This is different. This is a player who spurned the advances of Guardiola because of “a desire to stay and become a Juventus legend.”

But whatever has happened behind closed doors, the signal this sends to Paulo Dybala and Alex Sandro is spine-chilling for anyone who supports Juventus, because if a stalwart of the side can walk away so easily, what’s to stop that highly coveted duo doing the same over the next two years?

Leonardo Bonucci and Gonzalo Higuain

Furthermore, the club have also remained stoic and ignored comments from Dani Alves, the Brazilian firing some stinging barbs at the Old Lady after he too walked away.

Clearly he did not enjoy his time in Turin, and despite winning a record six consecutive Serie A titles and reaching two Champions League finals in three years, the Bianconeri now find themselves having to manage a crisis.

Overcoming this whole situation will not be easy.

There will be no quick-fix and fans will not be fooled by the addition of Federico Bernardeschi or Blaise Matuidi, both of whom have been linked with a move in recent weeks.

Truly elite clubs – Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich – win the Champions League and retain their best players.

So far both have proved beyond this current incarnation of Juventus, with Leonardo Bonucci’s shocking exit striking a major blow on both counts.

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Arsenal's Hector Bellerin and Paulinho make Barcelona's predicted XI for the new campaign

Andy West 14/07/2017
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Barcelona have endured a difficult summer so far, with the board coming under increasing pressure for their seemingly haphazard approach to improving their squad.

Obvious areas for improvement have been left untouched so far and new manager Ernesto Valverde has not yet given any public indication of his plans to improve his team's tactical coherence

Fans of the Blaugrana are desperately hoping the club steps up their efforts in the market in the coming weeks, or another frustrating season could be in store.


GOALKEEPERS


In a squad in a considerable state of flux, at least some stability comes for Barca in goal with Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Jasper Cillessen firmly entrenched in their respective roles as first and second-choice keepers.

Ter Stegen will be the starter but must start to cut out the occasional unforced errors which blighted his performances last year, or a goalkeeper debate could start to emerge.

In particular, the German international needs to learn greater discretion with his willingness to show off his ball-playing skills, accepting the idea that sometimes a hasty clearance is the best option.

But his style is likely to remain integral to the team despite the arrival of new coach Ernesto Valverde, who will give ter Stegen every chance to succeed.

Ter Stegen Ter Stegen

DEFENDERS


The most pressing need for new boss Valverde is to decide the identity of his starting right-back. Sergi Roberto and Aleix Vidal shared duties in that position last season but neither were convincing – not surprisingly considering both were converted from more attacking roles.

If Barca opt to sign a ‘proper’ right-back, city native Hector Bellerin is the most likely option having started his career with the club before joining Arsenal, although another English-based Spain international, Cesar Azpilicueta, has also been linked.

In the middle, Jeremy Mathieu’s departure to Sporting Lisbon should allow youngster Marlon Santos to receive more opportunities as back-up to Gerard Pique and Samuel Umtiti. And veteran utility man Javier Mascherano is also likely to stay despite earlier rumours of a possible move to China.

Gerard Pique Gerard Pique

MIDFIELDERS


The centre of the pitch is a real corridor of uncertainty for Barca, with ambitious plans to sign Marco Verratti from Paris St Germain apparently abandoned and a shock swoop for former Tottenham misfit Paulinho, now with Chinese side Guangzhou Evergrande, instead being pursued.

Incoming boss Valverde already has plenty of options at his disposal, but it’s unlikely that Denis Suarez, Arda Turan and Andre Gomes will all still be at the club by the end of August if willing buyers can be found.

Valverde has previously preferred to play with a ‘double pivot’ in midfield which would require a new partner for Sergio Busquets, and youth team graduate Sergi Samper could be given a chance to impress after spending last season on loan at Granada.

Ivan Rakitic Ivan Rakitic

FORWARDS


We know one thing for absolute certain: Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar will continue to be undisputed starters. But it is currently unclear exactly how Valverde intends to use them, and his tactical plans will make a big difference to the question of whether Barca will make any further forays into the transfer market.

Logically, Paco Alcacer should be given a chance to cover directly for Suarez rather than being stuck on the wing as he was last season, while the returning Gerard Deulofeu provides additional width.

But Valverde may decide he needs a back-up for the role filled by Messi – whatever that role may be – and a big-money move for a similarly creative player like Philippe Coutinho from Liverpool cannot be ruled out.

Barcelona's Lionel Messi (C), Luis Suarez (L) and Neymar. Barcelona's Lionel Messi (C), Luis Suarez (L) and Neymar.


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Manchester United's 2017 preseason fixtures as stars arrive for training ahead of Barcelona and Real Madrid encounters

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Paul Pogba, Romelu Lukaku, Victor Lindelof and Marcus Rashford are among the Manchester United stars who will be in action during the pre-season tour of the United States and Europe ahead of the new Premier League season.

Manchester United will face a hectic schedule as they take on LA Galaxy and Real Salt Lake, before contesting a number of high-profile friendlies.

The Red Devils will take on Manchester City, Real Madrid and Barcelona over a six day period before finishing off their summer tour with matches in Norway and Dublin.

This gives Jose Mourinho’s men plenty of time to sharpen up before they meet Champions League winners Real Madrid in the UEFA Super Cup in Macedonia on August 8.

Below are the crucial dates in Manchester United’s pre-season schedule:

JULY 15TH

FRIENDLY

LA Galaxy vs Manchester United, StubHub Center, Carson

JULY 17TH

FRIENDLY

Real Salt Lake vs Manchester Unitred, Rio Tinto Stadium, Sandy

JULY 20TH

INTERNATIONAL CHAMPIONS CUP

Manchester United vs Manchester City, NRG Stadium, Houston

JULY 23RD

INTERNATIONAL CHAMPIONS CUP

Manchester United vs Real Madrid, Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara

JULY 26TH

INTERNATIONAL CHAMPIONS CUP

Manchester United vs Barcelona, FedEX Field, Landover

JULY 30TH

FRIENDLY

Valerenga vs Manchester United, Ullevaal Stadion, Oslo

AUGUST 2ND

FRIENDLY

Manchester United vs Sampdoria, Aviva Stadium, Dublin

AUGUST 8TH

UEFA SUPER CUP

Manchester United vs Real Madrid, Philip II Arena, Skopje, Macedonia

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