Juventus: How a Punt on Andrea Barzagli Turned Around the Bianconeri's Defence
It's a classic case of the ugly duckling maturing into a swan.
There were some raised eyebrows when Juve signed Barzagli from Wolfsburg for €300,000 during the 2010-11 January transfer window. However, he proved his doubters wrong by becoming one of the best centre-backs in the world.
This article will detail Andrea's struggles with Wolfsburg, why director general Giuseppe Marotta took a punt on Barzagli and how the centre-back has turned around the Bianconeri's defence.
Andrea Barzagli's Disappointing Spell with Wolfsburg
Wolfsburg overpaid when they handed Palermo €11 million for Andrea Barzagli.
Yes, he had pedigree: He won the 2004 Euro U-21 Championships; earned a bronze medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics; was a squad player when Italy won the 2006 FIFA World Cup; and was included in Roberto Donadoni's Euro 2008 squad.
However, he never consistently showed how great he was.
When Donadoni did start Barzagli during the Euros, he was a mess, as the Dutch won 3-0. Three days later, Wolfsburg signed Andrea.
Barzagli was fortunate that his first season at the club coincided with one of the most potent three-pronged attacks in Bundesliga history—Grafite (28 goals, 11 assists), Edin Džeko (26 goals, 10 assists) and Zvjezdan Misimović (7 goals, 20 assists).
Felix Magath, who was relieved from his duties at Bayern Munich, led Die Wölfe to their first Bundesliga title, pipping Bayern by two points.
Not one Wolfsburg defender ranked in kicker's top 15 defenders, which was somewhat of an anomaly, since league champions generally always have at least one defender on that list.
The game plan to beat Magath's side was to attack a suspect back four and hope Diego Benaglio had an off-day—at the time, the Swiss shot-stopper was fighting with the likes of Schalke's Manuel Neuer and Hannover's Robert Enke (RIP) for the title of Bundesliga's best keeper.
That is exactly what Markus Babbel told his Stuttgart side, who had box-to-box threats in Sami Khedira and Thomas Hitzlsperger, plus the strike partnership of Cacau and Mario Gómez.
What was the end result? Barzagli was dragged all over the place as Gómez netted four times.
Andrea didn't look like a €11 million-valued centre-back, but no one vehemently pointed out his flaws, since Wolfsburg were champions.
But this wasn't the case during the 2009-10 season, as Wolfsburg supporters found their scapegoat—an overpriced and overpaid Barzagli.
The club went from No. 1 to not even qualifying for the UEFA Europa League, mainly due to Andrea's gaffes at the back.
Where do you start?
Hamburg scored twice in seven minutes (they ended with four), with Barzagli being caught out of position time after time. Andrea then spent a month warming the benches.
In the 3-1 loss to Borussia Dortmund, he couldn't win the ball away from Lucas Barrios in a game in which Mohamed Zidan had Zizou-like moments.
Wolfsburg leaked 58 goals in the Bundesliga that season, with Andrea receiving the worst kicker rating on the team for players who started 20-plus games.
The following January, Wolfsburg management cut bait and sold Barzagli to Juventus for a loss of €10.7 million.
Here are Barzagli's ranking during his time at Wolfsburg:
|Kicker Player Rankings||All Players||Defenders Only|
|WhoScored Player Rankings|
|Bild Player Rankings|
Why Did Beppe Marotta Punt on Andrea Barzagli?
When asked why he was let go from Wolfsburg, Andrea Barzagli said (via FIFA.com): "It may seem strange that I was signed for €11 million and sold for €300,000, but in Germany this happens a lot."
Good save, Andrea. Obviously, he tip-toed around the fact that Wolfsburg management deemed him a liability, hence their selling him for a derisive transfer fee in January.
Wolfsburg may have limited the deficit if he was sold during the summer, as opposed to letting his contract dwindle into the last few months when it was clear the club wasn't going to extend his stay.
Why did Beppe Marotta punt on Andrea? It certainly wasn't based on form.
Beppe saw a chance to sign a defender for €300,000 whose market value used to be €11 million.
Barzagli was signed as a direct replacement for bench-warmer Nicola Legrottaglie, who promptly sent in a transfer request after Andrea arrived, which Juventus accepted.
Low risk, high reward—who would've foreseen Barzagli transforming into one of the best centre-backs in the world?
Andrea Barzagli: A Colossus in Juventus' Dominant Defence
Andrea Barzagli doesn't fill up the stat sheet like teammate Giorgio Chiellini, who is a world-class ball-winner.
Both are different types of centre-backs.
Giorgio is physically imposing and aims to psychologically wear down the opposing centre-forward by constantly bulling him.
Barzagli plays the game in a composed manner, where he's generally always in control. He contains opposing attacking players, forcing them to turnover possession.
This wasn't the case in the Bundesliga, where he was on a knife-edge constantly, trying to plug holes behind his midfielders only to leave holes behind him, making him look worse than he really was.
You're right: That's hindsight bias. But that is the only plausible explanation for a world-class centre-back looking like absolute garbage at Wolfsburg.
What's your opinion about Leonardo Bonucci? He's taking advantage of playing alongside a world-class tackler and a world-class reader of the game.
Imagine Antonio Conte's team with Roma centre-back Marquinhos instead of Bonucci.
I’ll be honest, I don’t like Juventus because I fear them. I say they can win the Champions League. They represent an extremely compact collective, like an almost unsinkable vessel. This Juve really reminds me of my Porto side in 2004. If someone had forgotten, let me remind them that Porto won the Champions League that year.
With Chiellini and Barzagli holding Bonucci's hand in Conte's back three, the Bianconeri's defence is almost unsinkable—hence why they went unbeaten in Serie A last season.
It will be interesting to see how Juve hold up with Giorgio out for three months after a calf-tear.
|Season||Serie A Goals Conceded||Main CBs|
|2012-13||13 (No. 1)||Chiellini, Barzagli and Bonucci|
|2011-12||20 (No. 1)||Chiellini, Barzagli and Bonucci|
|2010-11||47 (No. 8) ||Chiellini and Bonucci |
|2009-10||56 (No. 15)||Chiellini and Cannavaro |
|2008-09||37 (No. 3)||Chiellini and Legrottaglie |
|2007-08||37 (No. 2) ||Chiellini and Legrottaglie|
 Barzagli arrived in January and only played the latter half of the season. Factor in Marco Motta starting 19 league games at right-back as a reason for the Bianconeri's defence being ranked eighth that season.
 Nicola Legrottaglie started 18 games at CB.
 Olof Mellberg started 18 games at CB.
 Roma also conceded 37 goals.
n.b. (No.x) refers to the position of the club in terms of goals conceded not overall points
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Statistics courtesy of WhoScored.com