Defining a Legacy: Why Leonardo Bonucci’s Greatest Challenge Will Be to Win Back the Juventus Fans

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They say that true love never dies. It only departs for extraordinary adventures and eventually flies back to its original destination. 

Only 140 kilometres separate Turin and Milan, a two-hour drive or just about an hour by train. Juventus and Leonardo Bonucci, though, had never been so distant. Emotionally, Bonucci and the Bianconeri suddenly became strangers, apathetic towards each other, as if they had never known each other before, despite winning six scudetti and reaching two Champions League finals together. 

After ‘betraying’ the Old Lady by signing for Milan, Bonucci went back to the stadium that warmly embraced him only 12 months earlier. This time around, however, it will take some time and effort to win over Juventus fans. This means that the 31-year-old defender may have to cope with (more than) a few irritated boos and woes.

On July 14th 2017, Bonucci became Milan’s newest player. The Rossoneri supporters went berserk, welcoming the Italy international as if he was a god, a Messiah, the new Maldini. The defender stepped in at Milanello with charisma, personality and confidence, as a saviour destined to finally wake the sleeping giant. 

“Things have got to change and I will do just that,” were Bonucci’s words. There was nothing the club could not do to make its new jewel happy. Shirt number? 19, of course, Bonucci’s special number. It was Kessie’s number as well, but there was a hierarchy to respect. 

The defender from Viterbo, a medieval city in the heart of the Italian peninsula, was knighted immediately and became captain of I Rossoneri despite having played no official matches for the club. This only came to show the respect and the importance that was bestowed upon Milan’s illustrious new addition. 

Bonucci was confident that he could lead his new club to success and Milan thought they had the right man for the job, to shake the dressing room and instill in his teammates the winning mentality from Turin. But I Rossoneri’s season did not kick off to the expected flying start and the whole campaign was far from the initial expectations. 

Out of the Europa League against Arsenal and struggling to reach a position that would guarantee a European spot in the upcoming season, the players did not respect the ambitious plans that the club had at the beginning of the Serie A. Neither were Bonucci’s flights of fancy reached.

There was one particular moment in March that undoubtedly marked the defender’s campaign – his goal at the Allianz Stadium, in Turin, against Juventus, his former club. On a whole, the goal meant very little, as the Old Lady went on to win the match 3-1. However, there was a peculiarity that the Bianconeri found incredibly difficult to digest. 

Bonucci’s celebration was his famous ‘sciacquatevi la bocca’, literally meaning “wash your mouth” – or more simply put, “shut up”. That gesture broke Juventus fans’ hearts, especially considering that by then the supporters had come to terms with the fact that their “Bonny” was now an opponent like any other footballer, wearing a different kit from the characteristic black and white. 

If that gesture destroyed any affection left for Bonucci at Juve, it made Milan fans fall in love even more with their charismatic captain, seeing him as a man ready to reject his past colours when representing one of their biggest rivals. Not for long though, as Bonucci would start to yearn for home just a few short months later.

In exchange for ‘El Pipita’ Gonzalo Higuain and the young defender Mattia Caldara, Juventus opted for the shock return of a player who desperately wanted to come back to Turin. Whether it was because his projects at Milan did not materialise or simply the appeal of competing in the Champions League alongside Cristiano Ronaldo, it’s difficult to tell why he chose to backtrack. 

“This is my real home,” Bonucci replied to the first questions on the matter. Whilst receiving the best of welcomes last summer in Milan, only a handful of people were waiting for the defender’s return to Turin for a couple of selfies and autographs. The rest were busy raging on the Internet, this time accompanied by Milan fans as well, all grumbling about Bonucci’s despicable behaviour. 

With slightly less self-esteem and pride Bonucci is ready to begin a new season with the prestigious black and white shirt. With two sets of fans disappointed by the whole saga and drama, it is really time for Bonucci to step up and show that he cares for the team he represents. This will also affect his standing in the Italian national team, in which he has played a vital role. 

Upon returning to Turin, he was waylaid by an angry supporter who decided to tell him off as a teacher would to a naughty boy, to which Bonucci replied: “I don’t need to respond with words. I will show you everything I have to say on the pitch”. 

Bonucci knows that more importantly than another scudetti, the task of regaining his honour and good name will define his legacy.

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