Every summer the soccer world is subjected to rampageous rumor, speculation, proffer, whisper, however you choose to describe the berserk extended transfer window colloquially known as “silly season.”
Fans follow it fervently, even if you could say with little exaggeration that 95 percent of what’s reported doesn’t actually end up being fact. So why do fans get so enraptured?
Because of Friday. Because of what happened Friday. What on earth.
Leonardo Bonucci, one of the two or three best center backs on the entire planet, a 30-year-old whose technique and positional anticipation are matched only by his physical gifts, who is surely the heir apparent to the Maldinis and Scireas and Cannavaros in the sumptuous Italian lineage of great defenders, arrived at AC Milan to complete one of the most shock transfers in recent memory.
Bonucci departs Juventus, which has dominated Italy for the better part of a decade, for Milan, which has not. The once-giants of Europe haven’t won Serie A in six years, haven’t finished top-three in four, and where their first decade of the 21st century was marked by Champions League triumph, their second decade has been marked by failure to live up to their glorious past.
The club’s new Chinese owners, who are very likely biting off more than they can chew, have decided to launch countless sums of money toward the goal of bringing that glory back. So far, the summer spending spree has seen smart mid-level buys from five different countries that will no doubt fill out the team for its charge back up the table.
But the headline signing is Bonucci, who costs AC Milan almost €40 million and even then is probably still a bargain. A fixture of both Juve and Italy’s back lines for the past seven seasons, Bonucci not only brings remarkable defending to the team but also an ability to pass and think forward that’s led to an Italian newspaper dubbing him “Beckenbonucci,” a favorable comparison to German positional revolutionary Franz Beckenbauer.
Which begs the question: Why in the world did Juventus let him go?
The popular narrative, at least as it’s emerged over the past few days, is Bonucci and Juventus manager Max Allegri had a falling out during this past season. There is indeed a piece of tangible evidence to that effect, an expletive-laden exchange during a game against Palermo in February.
That means a star player and a successful manager didn’t see eye to eye, which makes this situation … almost identical to every other training pitch and dressing room among the elite clubs in Europe. If that’s really the reasoning, it’s odd, no?
The money was obviously a factor in the decision as well, but while the statement of intent on AC Milan’s part is clear, it would be imprudent to ignore the statement of intent on Juventus’ part.
Juve has won the last six league titles and the last three Coppa Italias, and has been the Champions League runner-up in two of the past three seasons. It’s clearly re-established itself as a continental power after the Caliciopoli scandal of the mid-aughts saw Juventus accused of rigging matches and plunged down to Serie B with monetary and point fines in tow.
This is basically Juventus saying it doesn’t care how much contenders like AC Milan, Inter, Roma, Napoli and others load up. That there’s one standard-bearer in Italy, a club that’s better-run and more imaginative fiscally and tactically than its rivals and will finish ahead of them in the table because of it.
Maybe that’s true. But maybe Bonucci is the one Jenga piece integral to the whole structure, and while Juve is tumbling down the Champions League spots in Serie A, Bonucci and AC Milan will be waving at them on the way up.
Who knows? Such immediate impact would certainly be surprising. Then again, 48 hours ago, so would seeing Bonucci in a non-Juventus shirt.
The transfer window has rocked us again. Long live il stupido.
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