23-year-old Leonardo Bonucci represents the start of the rebuilding project for the Azzurri and Juventus. The former Viterbese and Inter youth product has a chance to restore credibility in the Azzurri’s defence after their debacle in South Africa. Leo is not only strong and powerful in the air but appears to have a near clairvoyant anticipation that is vital for any defender to possess. He is a textbook example of a central defender that has come at a vital time for Italy – the great defenders of old have deciding to leave, allowing players like him to step up to the big time, and one could say that Juventus is the biggest.
His performances for Bari the previous season had made quite an impression, not only on Marcello Lippi, but also Juventus. The Old Lady had been heavily linked to the central defender and finally got him despite interest from Inter and Milan. Bonucci eventually went to Juve on 1 July for 15.5m Euros and signed a five-year contract. This move not only benefits Juve but also the National side, as this will help him forge a real partnership with Azzurri teammate Giorgio Chiellini, and now Fabio Cannavaro has departed it has freed up space at the back for the young Inter graduate to make his mark.
Having begun his career with his hometown club Viterbese, he joined Italian giants Inter at just 18 and went on to make his debut in top flight football on the 14th May 2006 in a 2-2 draw with Cagliari. He played a number of pre-season friendlies with the first team, but after playing only one league game he was inevitably loaned out to lower sides to gain some much needed experience. He spent the 2008/09 campaign with Serie B side Treviso then Pisa to hone his skills and after these sides got relegated, Genoa bought him in 2009, in a deal that saw Diego Milito and Thiago Motta on their way to Inter. He was almost immediately loaned out to Bari where he thrived in his new surrounding and started 33 matches, forming a great relationship with Andrea Ranocchia which helped Bari record one of the best defensive records in Serie A for the first part of the season.
His international debut was a goalless draw against Cameroon, making a good impression with a number of fine tackles. This performance earned him a recall for a friendly against Mexico, where he promptly scored his first international goal. Italy eventually went on to lose the game by two goals, but this young defender is hungry for success and is determined to become a regular in the Italy squad.
His determination and enthusiasm has paid dividends for Juve in their important Europa League qualifier against Austrian side Sturm Gruz, where his goal helped the side win 2-1. He continued to prove his worth with the Azzurri with a goal against Estonia that helped Italy collect their first win in their Euro 2012 qualifiers, beating them 2-1. And he continued his progress by scoring his first Serie A goal in a 4-0 win against Udinese in week 3.
The young central defender is a refreshing inclusion to the Azzurri – fast, reliable, a good passer and able to score goals. The versatility and continued enthusiasm will make him an exciting prospect for the Bianconeri and The Azzurri. He is also not shy when it comes to speaking to the press, already expressing his hopes for the future of the club.
“We still have a bit more time to get things right, but we are finding ourselves better with the training at Vinovo every day,” he explained. “With Bari I had a great championship. I am climbing up the ladder and am hungry for success.”
Name – Leonardo Bonucci
Age – 23 (1/05/1987)
Position – Central Defender