The transfer of Leonardo Bonucci from Juventus to AC Milan caught many by surprise. The veteran centre-back a starring role in certain success with the Serie A champions behind. In turn, he has taken his place amongst a brand new project at the San Siro.
Moving domestically between major clubs creates controversy, despite historically being a frequent occurrence in Italy. More-so than other leagues, Serie A has a long history of players switching between its top sides; ten players have donned all three jerseys of Juventus, Inter and Milan. Bonucci will soon become the eleventh player to do so.
In light of the Bonucci transfer, let’s take a look at five controversial occasions where players transferred between top Italian clubs:
Giuseppe Meazza (Inter to Milan, 1940)
One of the most prominent footballing legends of the mid-20th century, Giuseppe Meazza played for both Milan clubs.
Rejected by the club he supported, AC Milan, Meazza was taken in by Inter as a youngster. Bulking up his slight frame, Inter moulded Meazza into one of the greatest players of his generation. Tales of his past make him one of the more enigmatic figures in Italian football history. Nonetheless, he is best remembered for his 241 goals in 348 league games for the Nerazzurri.
After transferring to Milan in 1940, Meazza was overcome by emotion prior to his first Milan derby. A boyhood Milan fan, but living Inter legend, Meazza had loyalties that lied with both clubs. Whilst the San Siro is the district in which he famous stadium sits, the ground shared by Inter and Milan is the ‘Stadio Giuseppe Meazza’.
He later became only the second man to play for Inter, Milan and Juventus when he moved to the Turin-based club in 1942.
Lionello Manfredonia (Lazio to Juventus, 1985) (Juventus to Roma, 1987)
The beating heart of every football club is the fans. The toughest part of joining a rival club must be the ire of the supporters left behind. When Lionello Manfredonia signed for Roma in 1987, he sparked major controversy. Not only did he turn his back on the Lazio fans, but created internal divisions within the Roma support.
Most notably, a group of ultras known as the C.U.C.S (Commando Ultrà Curva Sud) were literally divided over the transfer. Having mocked Roma fans during his time with Lazio, many fans were unable to forgive his past. This group split from the C.U.C.S, forming the C.U.C.S-GAM (Group Against Manfredonia) to protest the transfer.
Roberto Baggio (Fiorentina to Juventus, 1990)
Vital to fan acceptance is loyalty. Upon his move to Juventus from Fiorentina in 1990, Roberto Baggio struggled to gain acceptance from the Old Lady faithful. Despite paying a world record £8million transfer fee, Juventus fans were dissatisfied with their acquisition. They believed that the striker still had loyalties with his former club Fiorentina.
Juventus fans could be forgiven for feeling this way. Perhaps to soften the blow to the Purple Ultras, Baggio continued to display loyalty to his former club. Baggio refused to take a penalty against Fiorentina in a league game, a penalty that would be missed, costing his team the match.
Needless to say, Baggio also drew the ire of both Juventus and Fiorentina fans with the transfer. The move incited riots on the streets of Florence. Transfers between rival clubs play with fire; the repercussions can be vast.
Andrea Pirlo: (Inter to Milan, 2001) (Milan to Juventus, 2010)
Despite the importance of those in the stands, football is ultimately decided on the pitch. Sometimes, a player must do what is best for his career. Andrea Pirlo played for rival teams, but not as an act of disloyalty. Pirlo was forced out of both Milan clubs under differing circumstances.
Underutilised and shipped out on loan whilst at Inter, Andrea Pirlo was sold to local rivals AC Milan in June 2001. Deployed as a deep-lying playmaker under Carlo Ancelotti, Pirlo’s potential to maximised at Milan. He was integral to their success; the star-studded squad achieved UEFA Champions League glory in the 2002/03 season.
After achieving 2 Scudetti, 2 UEFA Champions Leagues and a Coppa Italia with Milan, Pirlo was deemed surplus to requirements in 2010. This would be a huge mistake, the midfield maestro still had plenty to contribute. Pirlo joined rivals Juventus, where he would discover the peak of his form, winning 4 consecutive Scudetti.
Gonzalo Higuaín (Napoli to Juventus, 2016)
A player can be at the top of his game at his club, but suffer from circumstances that force him away.
This was the case for Gonzalo Higuaín when he traded Napoli for Juventus in 2016. The striker cited his relationship with Napoli chairman Aurelio De Laurentiis as the reason for his departure. Having sold Paul Pogba to Manchester United for a world record fee, Juventus were able to pay an Italian record £75million for the Argentine striker.
Angered by the move, De Laurentiis launched scathing criticism at the Argentine striker: “there is the full sense of betrayal in this [Higuain] choice because of the ingratitude shown”.
Like Higuain, Leonardo Bonucci’s move is a result of disintegrating relationships. Many point to his falling out with Massimiliano Allegri as the key reason for the move. Bonucci has expressed loyalty to Juventus in the past, however Milan’s on-pitch inferiority means fans will be grateful to have a player of his stature at the club.