A multiple title-winning defender with Juventus who drove Italy to UEFA Euro 2020 glory, Leonardo Bonucci boasts well in excess of 100 caps for the Azzurri. bundesliga.com takes a closer look at Union Berlin's latest arrival.
Stats correct as of 1 September 2023
Age: 36 (born 1 May 1987)
Club: Union Berlin
Raised in Viterbo, around 50 miles north of Rome, Bonucci battled it out in several local sides, playing as a central midfielder before being pushed back into defence by shrewd youth coach Carlo Perrone. Excelling in his new position, Bonucci would go on to earn a trial with Inter Milan in 2004. He signed on as a pro for the Nerazzurri and made his Serie A debut under coach Roberto Mancini against Cagliari on the final day of the 2005/06 season.
A loan spell at Treviso in Serie B went relatively well, but Bonucci faired better at Pisa in one more loan in the second half of 2009. Still somewhat rough around the edges and prone to errors, there was enough in his 18 games at Pisa that convinced Bari to take a look and, via a stopover at Genoa, he signed for the White and Reds. It was here that Bonucci's reputation took off, playing in a defensive set-up that was the second best in Serie A during a time.
In July 2010, Bonucci signed for Juventus. After a tough first season in which the Old Lady stuttered to a seventh-placed finish in Serie A, a dramatic turnaround followed under new coach Antonio Conte who, along with subsequent tactician Massimiliano Allegri, would truly bring the very best out of Bonucci.
A partnership with with fellow defenders Giorgio Chiellini and Andrea Barzagli in a three-man defence earned the trio the monicker 'The BBC'. The trophies flowed. Bonucci was crowned Serie A champion in 2011/12. It would be the first of eight Italian top-flight titles in nine seasons with the Bianconeri.
The defender was also making his mark with the Italian senior side by this time. Indeed, it was under legendary coach Marcelo Lippi that Bonucci made his international bow while still a player at Bari in a friendly against Cameroon. His later efforts with Juventus brought him into the Italy fold for Euro 2012, where the Azzurri lost out to Spain in the final.
There were other international disappointments along the way for Bonucci, like suffering early elimination in the 2010 FIFA World Cup without seeing a minute of action, or being a part of the side that failed to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
Those bad memories would be washed away with glory at Euro 2020, however. In the tournament showpiece at Wembley, Bonucci scored the game's equalising goal against England and then netted during the penalty shootout in a man-of-the-match performance that helped Italy to win their second continental crown.
His country's fourth-highest cap holder behind Gianluigi Buffon, Fabio Cannavaro, and Paolo Maldini, Bonucci has chalked up eight goals in 121 appearances for Italy and - following the retirement of Chiellini - is now his nation's captain.
A single season at AC Milan in 2016/17 saw Bonucci make 51 appearances but a swift return to Juventus meant he was able to add to his colossal haul for the club. In all, the defender played in 12 campaigns for the Old Lady, amassing 502 appearances and scoring 37 goals.
He won 17 major titles with Juve and appeared in two Champions League finals, losing out to Barcelona and Real Madrid. The former showpiece was held in Berlin's Olympiastadion, where Union will play their Champions League games this season.
Plays a bit like: Franz Beckenbauer
The name 'Beckenbonucci' sometimes did the rounds in the Italian media when describing Union's experienced defender and it's easy to see why. A player who excels in tackling and has excellent aeriel prowess, Bonucci - who also boasts impeccable leadership skills - loves to build from the back, be it with his forward runs or pinpoint long passes.
Did you know?
Bonucci has a huge admirer in former Bayern Munich coach, Pep Guardiola, who once said of the Italian: “He’s an exceptional player in terms of character, in terms of personality, in terms of everything. That’s why he has played in one of the biggest teams in the world at Juventus."
What they're saying
"With Leonardo, we are signing a player with a lot of experience. He has proven his qualities over many years both nationally and internationally. We are convinced that with his mentality and his flexibility he will expand our possibilities in defence and raise us to another level once again." - Oliver Ruhnert, Union’s director of men’s professional football.
"He's defender who thinks like a midfielder." - Gian Piero Ventura, Bonucci's coach at Pisa.
"Already as a boy you could see how much of a winner he was, so much so that he was one of the protagonists of our [junior title] win." - Vincenzo Esposito, youth team coach at Inter.
"He was still only young, but even in his first training sessions, he made a great impression on me, especially in terms of his personality." Giuseppe Pillon, Bonucci's coach at Treviso.
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