Leonardo Bonucci will be missed at Juventus though exit makes sense
No sooner had Juventus fans started celebrating the arrival of Douglas Costa than rumours gathered that beloved defender Leonardo Bonucci was being targeted by Milan and a transfer was likely. In a sceptical world full of fake news, Italians laughed. They knew better. A transfer to Chelsea and a reunion with Antonio Conte, maybe, but Milan? Never. "I was the black and white sheep of a house full of Inter supporters," explained a young Bonucci when he first arrived to Turin to start his adventure.
Juventus pulled off another transfer market masterstroke when they opted to invested in little Leo, a Juventino since childhood. Although he was derided by the critics who warned that his partner Andrea Ranocchia was the better between the two defenders, Juve knew better. Never a club that invests in talent alone but in the man, the Old Lady recognised that glint in Bonucci's eye. He was a born winner and he would lead his club to glory.
Ranocchia may have boasted elegance, but Bonucci possessed every other quality. For all his clumsy play, over-excitement and aggressive knock-backs, Juventus realised that with a little time, they could extol the many virtues of this promising talent. Technical, intelligent and relentless, few were born to challenge and chase success in the same way as this central defender.
Accustomed to losing and forced to nearly give up on his footballing career, Bonucci loved the sport. He overcame adversity, Osgood-Schlatter disease and practiced relentlessly to make his dreams a reality.
When Juventus came knocking, his prayers were answered. As a Bianconero and under the tutelage of Juve's great coaches, Bonucci transformed from a promising defender into the world's best centre-back. Boasting vision, excellent timing, discipline and of course an exquisite range of passing, Bonucci could both halt the opponent and initiate his own team's attacks. There was truly little the defender could not manage.
The emblem of Juve's famed "grinta," Bonucci defined passion and defended the Bianconeri's colours with courage and brilliance. He formed part of the now celebrated "BBC" back line; only a few strikers could pierce the impenetrable defence. Yet as we have all come to learn and as Antonio Conte taught Juventus fans only three years ago, every passionate man has an ego and can never be tied down, not even by the club of his heart.
As a leader who makes himself heard, the cracks began to appear when Bonucci was seen arguing with Massimiliano Allegri during Juve's match against Palermo, a game they were winning. Swearing at the manager after the final whistle left the usually unperturbed Allegri in a seething mood. Choosing to show his authority and teach Bonucci humility, Allegri benched the defender in the Champions League match against Porto. No player was bigger than the team.
Then came the Champions League final. Bonucci was forced to deny and even threatened legal action when it was reported that a brawl occurred at half-time, in which he allegedly slapped Paulo Dybala and told off Andrea Barzagli for making it so easy for the opponent to target his side of the pitch. It was clear, even if all the reports were false, that Bonucci had not been entirely happy at Juventus ever since Allegri had arrived. Had the relationship between him and the soft-spoken coach been perfect from the start, the defender would never have contemplated a move last season as both Conte and especially Pep Guardiola vehemently pursued the defender.
"It wasn't a decision taken lightly. When you see one of the top coaches in the world show so much respect and appreciation for you, it's hard to say no." However, not even the lure of riches and exciting new experiences could break the bond the player had with the Turin giants.
"There is so much Juventus in me," said Bonucci at the time. "It's a matter of heart and skin. Every time I wear the shirt, it gives me this incredible energy. I hope I can be important for Juventus as Juventus is for me."
His loyalty was thought to be guaranteed but it appears this season's incidents were simply too much to bear for the defender who allegedly sought an exit and a new start.
Is loyalty now simply a word that belongs to a bygone era? Was Bonucci really a Juventus supporter? After all, many Inter fan sites posted quotes attributed to the player who once alleged to be an Inter fan. They asked the same questions I ask today: How can a symbol of the club he supported all his life choose to play for their direct rivals?
If Bonucci did in fact disrupt the dressing room harmony and made life difficult for the coach, then perhaps both he and Juve made the right choice. After all, the Bianconeri continued to survive without Alessandro Del Piero and they will survive without Bonucci even if his passion and style will be heavily missed.
Bitterness envelops every supporter who rejoiced at his goal celebrations, but football players are people who simply want to lead happy lives, even if it breaks the hearts of the many who followed their journey from the start.
Mina Rzouki covers Juventus and the Italian national team for ESPN FC. Follow her on Twitter: @Minarzouki.