The Bianconeri were delighted the centre-half turned down Barcelona and Manchester City last year but they are now open to selling him to Chelsea
Last summer, Leonardo Bonucci had a difficult decision to make: join either Barcelona or Manchester City or stay at Juventus.
Each option excited him, in particular the prospect of linking up with Pep Guardiola at the Etihad.
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The Catalan had previously described the ball-playing centre-half as “one of my favourite players ever”, so turning down a move to Manchester was not easy for Bonucci, “How could it be,” he mused, “when the best coach in the world wants you?”
Bonucci, though, decided to remain in Turin because he wanted to be a part of history.
Along with Gianluigi Buffon, Andrea Barzagli, Giorgio Chiellini, Stephan Lichtsteiner and Claudio Marchisio, he had the opportunity to win six successive Serie A titles with Juve.
More than that, though, Bonucci’s decision to stay at Juve was driven by his desire to “become even more of a legend at this club”. That meant helping the Old Lady end her 21-year wait for a third European Cup.
When Juve reached the Champions League final undefeated, and having conceded just three goals, he was convinced that his and Juve’s time had come.
Thus, a 4-1 loss to Real Madrid in Cardiff, featuring a strange, second-half capitulation, devastated Bonucci.
“This was meant to be the right time,” he lamented afterwards.
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Now Bonucci will be wondering if this is instead the right time to leave the Bianconeri, with Juve said to be open to accepting a reported €55 million offer from Chelsea.
A move to Stamford Bridge would, of course, reunite him with Antonio Conte, the coach responsible for putting Bonucci in a back-three alongside Barzagli and Chiellini that transformed the fortunes of both Juve and Italy.
In addition, the transfer would allow Bonucci to do things of which he has always dreamed: test himself in a more competitive league, adapt to another, more frenetic style of football and sample another culture.
He had already started taking English lessons before ultimately deciding to stick with Juve last year.
Bonucci extended his contract until 2021 in December but, in truth, that has merely strengthened Juve’s hand if they decided to deal – and it does make sense from the champions’ perspective.
Firstly, €55m is a colossal amount of money for a 30-year-old. Secondly, while Bonucci is one of Juve’s most important players, particularly because of his wonderful distribution of the ball, he is not – as even he admitted after being dropped for the Champions League trip to Porto in February – “indispensable”.
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Indeed, Juve would not need to go looking for a replacement, as they have already signed one – Mattia Caldara.
In January of this year, the Bianconeri agreed a €15m deal with Atalanta that will see the Italy Under-21 international remain in Bergamo on loan before moving to Turin in the summer of 2018.
Should Bonucci depart, though, Juve could attempt to bring forward his arrival by sweetening the deal for Atalanta.
There is speculation that the Old Lady could take advantage of the fire sale at Lazio by snapping up the talented Stefan de Vrij but in Caldara, Juve already have everything they need – and more.
The 23-year-old is not your average footballer – in any sense.
Caldara sees the Playstation as “a waste of time”, preferring instead to tackle the works of the great Russian writers, Leo Tolstoy and Fyodor Dostoyevsky.
However, the way in which he reads the game is of greater interest to Juve. He made 101 interceptions last season – only four other players across Europe’s ‘Big 5’ leagues made more.
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By contrast, Bonucci made only 60, while Caldara also made more tackles and recoveries, and won more duels and aerials than the man he will – sooner or later – replace at the heart of the Bianconeri back-line.
Juve were, thus, wise to move early for Caldara, who was as surprised as anyone else by the timing of the deal.
“I thought it was a joke,” he confessed in January. “I couldn’t believe it after just a dozen appearances in Serie A.”
However, the 23-year-old’s talent was obvious from his first outing, a surprise 2-0 win over Napoli.
The kid who grew up idolising Alessandro Nesta – hence the No.13 jersey – actually played like him.
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Composed under pressure, graceful in possession and immaculately timed in the tackle but, unlike his childhood hero, also a threat in the opposition box.
Caldara scored seven times last season and will add an extra attacking threat to a Juve side brimming with them.
The only question now is when he will arrive? Twelve months on, Bonucci has another difficult decision to make. The only difference this time around is that replacing him would be so much easier.