When tempers flared during a match against Palermo between Leonardo Bonucci and Massimiliano Allegri on February 17th, people wrote off the encounter as two fiery combatants trying to get the best out of each other. Allegri subsequently benched Bonucci against Porto in the first leg of their round of 16 Champions League match-up.
Allegri would later state that Bonucci was benched for disciplinary reasons; many applauded the decision. The consensus was if Allegri could bench one of his best players, then no other member of the Bianconeri would dare cross Allegri again.
Juventus went on to dominate the Champions League knockout rounds with a suffocating defense. That defense lead them to the Champions League Final against Real Madrid. Many people were predicting Juventus to win, as defense usually wins these affairs. Both Real and Juve struck in the first half. The out-of-this-world goal by Mario Mandzukic gave the Bianconeri the momentum heading into half-time.
A funny thing happened, though. No one will admit or pinpoint to what happened in the respective dressing rooms.
Did Zinedine Zidane give another motivational speech? Did Juve celebrate too early? Was there a fight in the locker room? No one really knows, but what is known is that Real Madrid came out with a purpose while Juventus came out flat. In fact, that was the worst half of football Juventus had played all season, and what led next was a trouncing by the reigning champions of Europe.
Real Madrid scored 16 minutes into the second half with a deflected Casemiro goal, and just two minutes later Cristiano Ronaldo scored to end the affair. Real Madrid went on to win 4-1 and left many scratching their heads as to what went wrong. Juventus allowed more goals in the final (4) then they had in the twelve games leading up to it (3).
All was mum in the month following the big finals. Allegri was asked on multiple occasions about Leonardo Bonucci and, repeatedly, he said ‘he is our future captain and an example of a professional’. When Bonucci was asked about his ambitions, he proclaimed that he is a Juventini for life.
Milan have been getting attention this summer with all their signings, behind new Chinese owners who have marked their ambitions with a thunderbolt. Before the shopping spree began, many cried out that Alessio Romagnoli needed a partner at center back to plug the obvious gaping holes in the Rossoneri defense.
Many Milan fans, including myself, initially thought Leo Bonucci would be perfect, but such things were said in jest, as no sane person would think Juventus would ever sell their best player and arguably, along with Diego Godin of Atletico Madrid, one of the top two defenders in the world.
That noise died down with the signing of Mateo Musacchio, a central defender from Villarreal. What followed for Milan was a slew of summer signings. Joining Musacchio at Milan were Franck Kessie, Ricardo Rodriguez, Andrea Conti, Hakan Calhanoglu, Andre Silva, Fabio Borini and Lucas Biglia. Rumors were only talking about a big-name striker to round out one of the greatest transfer campaigns in modern history.
Flash forward to July 13th, and the Twittersphere exploded.
As Frank Crivello and I mentioned on the recent Globe podcast, Leonardo Bonucci’s name started being mentioned completely out of the blue. Stories of his unrest from Juventus seemed fabricated, especially since there was nothing for us to believe otherwise.
Still, the sane fan, especially those familiar with a club who throw names out all the time, remained calm. Then credible reporters like Gianluca Di Marzio, Fabrizio Romano and Gabriele Marcotti began talking Bonucci to Milan and that caused people to stop in their tracks and wonder, “is this really happening?”
By the next morning, Bonucci was at Juve’s training ground, his every move being critiqued. The same credible reporters all exclaimed that the move was imminent. Then Bonucci left training early and was seen leaving Juventus’ headquarters. “Could he be going to Milan? No way!” When a player leaves training, it could mean anything really.
But just around midday in Italy, a black car drove up to Casa Milan, the new Milan headquarters, and was immediately mobbed by fans looking for confirmation. One of the back windows rolled down, and low and behold, Leonardo Bonucci’s head emerged with a smile.
The fans went wild, hitting the car and chanting his name, as he arrived to sign a contract in the shock transfer no one saw coming — a transfer that took just over 24 hours to complete.
Milan paid 42 million euros for the Italian defender, but Milan returned in kind sold Mattia De Sciglio to Juventus for 12 million euros. Effectively spending 30 million euros on one of the best players on the planet is remarkable. But what everyone is wondering is simple: why did this happen?
One media outlet unveiled a story from the Champions League Final. The story claimed that both Dani Alves (who terminated his contract with Juventus just weeks before) and Bonucci berated Paulo Dybala, Andrea Barzagli stepped in, and a scuffle broke out with Giorgio Chiellini having to break it up.
Another news outlet claimed Mario Mandzukic told them that Alves and Bonucci got into it with each other and manager Max Allegri had to break them up, yelling “both of you stop it! Finish this match, and afterwards you both are off the team!” Both stories have been debunked to be fake and no one from that Juventus locker room is saying anything.
I honestly do not know what happened, nor do I think we will ever find out. Alves, Bonucci and even Mandzukic have all denied the accusations. What I do believe happened is that Leonardo Bonucci and Massimiliano Allegri could no longer coexist. Allegri had a similar falling out at Milan with Andrea Pirlo before the latter’s move to Juventus, so are we witnessing the reversal here?
Maybe someone will spill the beans down the road. All we do know is that Juventus have just sold one of their best players to a bitter rival and possible contender to their Serie A crown in Milan, in a move that will be spoken about for years to come.
Is it as big as Figo jumping ship from one Spanish giant for another? Frank Crivello gave the good analogy of Reggie White leaving the Philadelphia Eagles his prime for the Green Bay Packers. Nonetheless, this 2017/18 Serie A season has been taken to a whole new level with the emergence of the sleeping giants Milan and the shock transfer of Bonucci.
What all this leaves us asking is… when do Juventus play Milan?