A transfer saga is at an end and coveted Netherlands international Matthijs de Ligt has accepted the grand challenge of becoming Juventus’ next iconic centre-back.
De Ligt, 19, has exhibited ability and leadership beyond his years. Such startling performances convinced the perennial Serie A champions to pay Ajax’s €75 million asking price, edging intense competition from the likes of Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain in the process.
The history of Vecchia Signora (Old Lady) is illuminated by a series of outstanding players in De Ligt’s position. Here is a ranking of the lionised figures the Dutchman will aim to join in his new employer’s Pantheon:
5) CIRO FERRARA (1994-2005)
In football as in life, judge people by the company they keep.
Ferrara’s 11-year stint with the Bianconeri (Black and Whites) began when he followed the esteemed Marcello Lippi from Napoli to Turin. On the pitch, he would become a constant alongside the likes of Mark Iuliano, Paolo Montero, Igor Tudor and Lilian Thuram.
In particular, a ferocious partnership with the aforementioned Uruguayan would live in infamy among the continent’s brutalised strikers.
Unlike the pugnacious Montero, however, Ferrara offered a more complete package. Tough as teak when required, yet blessed with refined ball-playing ability and an intuitive reading of the game.
Ferrara quit as a 14-time recipient of major honours at Juventus across 358 run-outs. His attachment to the club, however, was soured by a wretched half-season stint in charge during 2009/10.
4) FABIO CANNAVARO (2004-06, 2009-10)
Cannavaro’s relationship with the Juve tifosi (fans) can be filed under ‘complex’.
Upon arrival from bitter rivals Inter Milan, and often alongside equally adept former Parma team-mate Thuram, he produced peerless domestic performances that helped carry Fabio Capello’s outfit to dominant Serie A success from 2004-06. This brilliance bled into the international arena, where faultless displays in Italy’s surprise World Cup 2006 conquest would see him become the only defender to lift the fabled Ballon d’Or.
This individual honour, however, would come as a Real Madrid player. Cannavaro was one of the first Juve superstars out of the Stadio delle Alpi exit door after the scandalous – and contentious – Calciopoli refereeing scandal witnessed Juve dumped to Serie B and stripped of the 2004/05 and 2005/06 titles.
A brief return in 2009/10 would also be stained by repeat injury and a reckless red card during humiliating defeat to minnows Fulham in the Europa League knockouts.
3) GIORGIO CHIELLINI (2005-)
Chiellini remains the warrior ceaselessly driving Juve to victory.
His uproarious and unrestrained celebrations, amid the classic unit of goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon and partner Leonardo Bonucci, for a latest act of defensive prowess embody Juve’s trademark indefatigable spirit. For boundless glee and emotion, they rival anything the attackers produce when the latest goal flies in at the opposite end.
Chiellini is also the persisting symbol of the club’s rebirth after the dramas of the previous decade. He would first become a regular at centre-back in 2006/07’s chastening Serie B-promotion campaign, before truly growing into life there in the top flight by 2008/09.
The Pisa-native – who joined after stints with Roma and rivals Fiorentina – is both consummate athlete and footballer. Perfect defensive instincts, inspirational leadership, remarkable longevity and enduring physicality are his calling cards.
A tally of 17 major honours, and counting, points to this talisman’s supreme contribution.
De Ligt could not hope for a better mentor. Precious few footballers in the sport’s annals can match Chiellini’s achievements.
=1) CLAUDIO GENTILE (1973-84) AND GAETANO SCIREA (1974-88)
It is, frankly, impossible to separate this pair.
Backed up by goalkeeper Dino Zoff and flanked by the likes of virtuoso left-back Antonio Cabrini, they would carry Juventus and Italy to unforgettable successes.
The contrast between the two centre-backs couldn’t have been starker. Gentile’s surname was a total misnomer, with the Libya-born battler offering mastery of the dark arts in his role as masterful – and unforgiving – man-marker.
Scirea offered the silk to this steel, gracefully performing his role as captain.
At Juve, they thrived in the zona mista approach of the revolutionary head coach Giovanni Trapattoni. It added an injection of energy to the dated ultra-defensive ‘catenaccio’ system which previously dominated Italian football’s dogma.
Gentile would claim 10 major honours at Juve, the younger Scirea making his way to 14 before retirement. They would also provide the bedrock to Italy’s 1982 World Cup triumph.
This tale, however, has a tragic footnote. Scirea would die in a car crash when undertaking scouting duty for Juventus in Poland just a year after hanging up his boots.
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