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The Two Sides of Leonardo Bonucci



When the reports of Bonucci’s agent offering him to Milan came through, I laughed. Why would arguably the best center back in the world right now leave a club he just won six consecutive Scudetti with betray that club and come to a direct rival? This was a classic mercato rumor. But as the reports became reality, my laughter turned to tears of joy. In three short months, this new management have managed to create a project that would convince a world class player to believe enough in their project to not only agree to a five year contract with the club, but to accept the captain’s armband, too. A champion, a man who has consistently proven his worth on and off the pitch, and for both club and country. The kind of player Milan have been lacking since so many of the Senatori left. And yet, there also seem to be two sides to Leonardo Bonucci.

Welcome to the right side, Captain Bonucci

The Player
He was an Inter youth product and owned by them for four years, so he might lose a few points for that. But I have great respect for players who play for Inter and then choose the correct team later. They have repented and offered absolution, and we have seen many of them become very successful, like Seedorf and Pirlo. The reverse move is even worse than the opposite, though. (Looking at you, Cassano.) Although Bonucci went on to play for Juve as well, that is much less morally reprehensible. At least at Juve, players win trophies.

While Bonucci was originally loaned out by Inter to Serie B clubs, his breakthrough was while playing at Bari in Serie A under Conte. That led to his transfer to Juventus, and the rest is history. He has played in two World Cups for Italy, representing his country 70 times at the senior level. His experience is priceless to a team rebuilding and with so many young players. He is an amazing defender, with great positioning and a great read of the game. He is known for his passing, especially his long passes. He is also great in the air and great at tackling. Despite playing as a traditional center back in a four man backline, his rise to glory came when he was the center of a three man defense, a more modern version of a sweeper. Experts have compared him to both Beckenbauer and Scirea. And while I am not one for comparisons, especially of legends, it is a testament to his prowess as a defender.

He is a champion for both club and country

The Man
I think the legend that is Bonucci was forged in platinum in 2012 when Bonucci & his wife and baby were held up at gunpoint. Bonucci punched his attacker and chased after him when he ran away. This is the kind of man that anyone would want on their team, wearing their crest.

Of course, that same baby that watched his dad play superhero was distraught that his father made him wear a Juve jersey during last season’s Scudetto celebrations. Lorenzo is an avid Torino fan, and this was like child abuse. But his dad made up for it. Not only did he take him to a Torino game the next week, but the little guy got to meet his idol, Bellotti. Again with the absolution. It’s hard to stay mad at this guy.

He does whatever it takes for both of his sons, no matter their chosen team

It is also well known that his son Matteo had some very serious health problems, to the point that Bonucci took time off from both Juve and the national team to tend to his family. Despite getting abused by his own fans for this, he did what he needed to do as a father and a husband, and returned to work more dedicated than ever. I have immense respect for him not only going through something so difficult, but the professional way in which he dealt with it.


The Captaincy
This is the trickiest part for me. The captaincy was traditionally always awarded by seniority at Milan. It just doesn’t seem right for a player to pick up the armband on the way in the door. Especially when that player comes to you straight from a rival club. It is like rewarding betrayal. But more importantly, what message does it send to Abate, the rightful captain? Or the other players who have sweat blood for the shirt for years, only to see their hopes at the captaincy taken by some hotshot who walks in, has never even worn the shirt, and earns the highest wages in Serie A? Now he gets the armband, too? This isn’t an honorary degree you hand a celebrity. The armband is meant to represent blood, sweat, and tears shed for the crest, fighting alongside your teammates.

A real man would have actually done this... or never taken the armband from its rightful owner

On the other hand, the man punched an armed robber to protect his family. Who the hell doesn’t want that guy as your captain? I know I do. Particularly when we have suffered under the reign of terror that is the Montolivo captaincy. If Montolivo had been held up, he would have peed his pants, put his wife and baby in front of him, and run away. Certainly he has never been a leader at Milan. Unless you count tweeting about non-Milan related things during Milan games as leadership. Also, speaking of Montolivo, what rich Karma is it that he loses the captain’s armband in the same underhanded way that he acquired it? Anyone who takes the armband away from Montolivo is a hero in my book. Even better that it is being given to someone who has long demonstrated leadership skills on and off the pitch, even if for other clubs. Besides, with the new management and so many new starters, perhaps it is appropriate this time to break tradition and give the armband to the most experienced and most qualified starter.

Loyalty
Let’s not kid ourselves. Modern football has no place for loyalty. Clubs are not loyal to players and players are not loyal to clubs. Certainly fans are not loyal to players. If a player sneezes the wrong way, they attack him virtually and physically. But if you play for a club for seven years like Bonucci has, and you need to leave the club for any reason, going to a direct rival is still a betrayal. Milan fans thought they knew what betrayal was a few weeks ago when Donnarumma turned down the initial contract extension offer. In fact, plenty are still mad at him even though he never even talked to Juve. But they are fine with Bonucci actually doing what they feared Gigio was going to do. That’s irony right there for you. Literally Bonucci did what they feared most, and Gigio did not, but Gigio is hated and Bonucci is a hero. Those are the same fans demanding loyalty from their players.  

This is not a betrayal, it's a rescue mission. We've got you, Leo. You're safe now.

Having listened to hundreds too many Allegri press conferences, I can’t imagine what it is like to be coached by him for three years. Rumors of a falling out between Bonucci and Allegri have not been denied, and the club put up no fight for the player’s exit, as well as agreeing to a price that is comparably very cheap in this market. The man played in two Champions League finals and lost. Perhaps he realized his chances were better with a club that actually wins those finals? Whatever the reason Bonucci walked away, it was his agent offering him to us. We can question his loyalty, but as they say, don’t judge another man until you have walked in their shoes. However, we do have to ask ourselves: will he leave Milan like he did Juventus? Only time will tell.

There are actually a lot more than two sides to Leonardo Bonucci. But first and foremost, heartstrings and emotions aside, he is literally the best defender in the world right now. That alone should be enough. Questions about his Inter past, abusing his son with the Juve jersey, his loyalty, and whether or not it is right to hand him the armband are outweighed by his otherwise very strong moral character, leadership skills, and legendary status off the pitch, too. It is impossible not to immediately love this man for doing the right thing and coming to Milan. He has singlehandedly shifted the balance of Serie A. And shifted it the right way. With his transfer, he makes Serie A competitive and seals Milan’s spot on the map again. We are the team to watch. And we will be playing with a superhero as our captain. If there are two sides to Leonardo Bonucci, I’m glad he has finally chosen the right side.


This post inspired by the music of U2’s “The Refugee”


Our next match is
the ICC Tournament
Milan vs. Borussia Dortmund
Tuesday, July 18 • 7:20pm China Standard Time (7:20am EDT)
in Guangzhou, China