Just when the summer transfer window in Serie A was starting to settle down, Juventus and AC Milan added to the hysteria with a jaw-dropping three-player swap.
Gonzalo Higuain is heading to Milan on loan with an option to buy, which could lead to Juventus earning a total of €54 million ($81.8 million) at season’s end. Promising centre-back Mattia Caldara is also heading to the Rossoneri and Leonardo Bonucci, who left Juventus for Milan last summer, is returning to his former club as part of the deal.
A marquee move such as this will lead to plenty of discussion, so with that in mind, here are three winners and losers of the swap.
New AC Milan sporting director Leonardo has been in charge for about a week, yet he’s managed to pull off one of the deals of the summer.
Milan gets a proven scorer in Higuain, which the club sorely lacked last year. Patrick Cutrone was solid in his opening season, netting 10 goals in 28 games, but the other marquee teams had a talismanic striker. Inter Milan’s Mauro Icardi and Lazio’s Ciro Immobile each scored 29 goals, while Edin Dzeko had 24 across all competitions for AS Roma.
Higuain struck 21 times, which is lower than his previous two campaigns. However, the Argentine’s goals versus Inter, Napoli and Tottenham proved crucial for Juve in Serie A and the Champions League, respectively.
As for Caldara, he’s already 24, but defenders peak in their late 20s and early 30s, plus the centre-back has more than 116 competitive appearances under his belt. Caldara should add to that total right away as he will surely partner Alessio Romagnoli, who, at 23 years of age, also has more than 100 games of experience.
Gianluigi Donnarumma, 19
Andrea Conti, 24
Mattia Caldara, 24
Alessio Romagnoli, 23
Ricardo Rodriguez, 25
Davide Calabria, 21
Avg. age = 22.67
Milan’s defensive unit and goalkeeper make for a youthful group.
— Matthew Santangelo (@Matt_Santangelo) August 1, 2018
The fact Leonardo acquired two players of this calibre in exchange for Bonucci, who wanted out at Milan, all the while offloading his massive wages, is a huge win for the Brazilian director.
Juventus’ Champions League aspirations
As soon as Cristiano Ronaldo was signed, it was evident that someone was going to leave to compensate for the Portuguese’s arrival.
Gonzalo Higuain was somewhat expected given that he is a centre-forward and expects to play every week. With Ronaldo coming in, there wouldn’t have been room for Higuain to play regularly.
The financial relief, which David Amoyal broke down very nicely on the CalcioLand podcast, was also a big factor in Juve engaging with Milan.
The return of Bonucci also provides more experience at the back for Juve. His ball-playing abilities will help the Bianconeri in the Champions League, especially when the face high-pressing sides. It will also free up Miralem Pjanic, who can roam forward more often with Bonucci also making secondary runs from the defence.
It’s a bold strategy, but with Ronaldo in the fold, Juventus has to go all-in for the Champions League, even if it means sacrificing the future of the back line. The acquisition of Bonucci moves them closer to that goal.
Italy’s future defence
Caldara and Romagnoli, as mentioned, haven’t even hit their primes. However, they figure to be crucial pieces of AC Milan for the next several years.
The benefits this will have on the Italian national team are huge. Caldara and Romagnoli could anchor Italy’s defence for many years to come. Playing for the same club certainly has its advantages, too.
If everything pans out, we might see a repeat of when four Milan defenders – Alessandro Costacurta, Paolo Maldini, Franco Baresi and Mauro Tassotti – were all a part of the 1994 World Cup squad. Davide Calabria and Andrea Conti both figure to be a part of the Rossoneri’s immediate plans as well, so perhaps it will be an all-Milanese back line for Euro 2020.
The future of Juventus’ defence
Sporting director Fabio Paratici has identified and signed some of the most promising young players in Italy since he arrived at Juventus in 2010.
Mattia Caldara wasn’t the first youngster snapped up by Paratici and he won’t be the last, but there’s no doubt that Juve’s future took a pretty serious blow.
Bonucci and Medhi Benatia are 31 years old. Giorgio Chiellini is 33. Andrea Barzagli is 37. The only defender under the age of 30 is Daniele Rugani, whose progress has stalled recently at a crucial moment in his career.
Juventus can always make the necessary signings to address the defence when the time comes. But if the Italian giants fail to win the Champions League in this small window, then the club’s hierarchy may come to lament this deal.
Juventus’ forward depth
Ronaldo’s fitness levels, even at 33 years of age, are off the charts. Therefore, having a “backup” like Higuain is a luxury.
However, losing Higuain leaves Juventus a little short of depth up front.
Mario Mandzukic, who is more of a winger these days, can also lead the line but there isn’t another out-and-out No. 9 in the squad. It could be problematic if injuries plague the frontline.
If Mandzukic departs, which was rumoured earlier in the summer, then there might be a crisis.
The rest of the top six in Serie A
For the neutral, the top of the Serie A table is going to be wildly entertaining now that Milan has bolstered its squad.
However, the fight for Champions League places is going to be extra competitive. Inter made some astute signings, such as Radja Nainggolan and Stefan de Vrij, as did AS Roma with Javier Pastore. Lazio snapping up Milan Badelj and Joaquin Correa should be a boost for the Biancocelesti.
Milan’s two acquisitions, plus Bonucci’s return to Juventus, should strike some fear into the other clubs, especially as the fight for the top four becomes even more fierce.