Since director general Giuseppe Marotta arrived at Juventus in May 2010, he has carved out a reputation as a smart operator capable of building hugely successful teams. That he has done so with or without major investment only enhances his reputation, with many of his signings being held up as perfect examples of how a club can and should operate.
This is a man who picked up Andrea Pirlo on a free transfer, while stealing Paul Pogba away from Manchester United for minimal compensation. That he was able to sell the Frenchman back to Old Trafford this summer—and collect a world-record fee in the process—was testament to his abilities.
He was also ruthless enough to snatch Gonzalo Higuain and Miralem Pjanic from Juve's two biggest rivals, Napoli and AS Roma powerless as Marotta met each player's buyout clause. Yet above all of those aforementioned names, one deal arguably stands alone as the 59-year-old's best and most unbelievable deal, a purchase that even today looks spectacular.
In January 2011, the Bianconeri were struggling defensively, coach Luigi Delneri failing to secure a back line that had been porous for some time. Desperate for reinforcements and having looked across Europe, the Old Lady purchased Andrea Barzagli from German side VfL Wolfsburg.
According to the club's official website, Juventus paid just €300,000 for the defender who had found himself surplus to requirements at the Volkswagen Arena despite playing a major role in their 2008/09 Bundesliga title win.
Before that, he had played out the early part of his career in relative obscurity, featuring for Rondinella, Pistoiese, Piacenza, Ascoli and Chievo. He enjoyed modest success with Palermo and became a regular in the Italian national team squad, playing in the second round and quarter-finals as the Azzurri won the 2006 FIFA World Cup.
His first six months with Juventus didn't go too well, the team's struggles continuing as they slumped to a seventh-place finish for the second consecutive season. Yet while he had made just 15 appearances, both his own career and the fortunes of the club were about to be transformed.
Antonio Conte arrived in the summer of 2011, the former midfielder tearing away the mediocrity that had engulfed the club and making some incredibly bold decisions. After being unimpressed with both a 4-4-2 and a 4-3-3 formation in the early matches of his first season, the new coach opted to deploy a three-man defence and write his name into history.
Barzagli started every game alongside Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini, and Juventus never looked back. The trio became known as "the BBC," and the security they provided allowed the rest of the team to play with far greater freedom, safe in the knowledge the back line would hold firm.
Most observers can discuss the merits of his two team-mates. Bonucci has developed into arguably the best ball-playing central defender in the world, able to deliver precise passes and be involved in the buildup play almost as an extra midfielder.
Chiellini provides the muscle, a robust, old-school man-marker who never allows opposing strikers a moment on the ball. With his face often contorted into a scream and his physical style, a tackle from the Juventus No. 3 is something akin to being hit by the Incredible Hulk.
But where does that leave Barzagli? Simply put, he is the most constantly overlooked and underrated defender in the game today, capable of snuffing out any and all would-be attackers yet barely gaining recognition for doing so.
Yet to watch him is a study in defensive perfection, with Bonucci certainly in no doubt as to his strengths when he discussed his team-mate in an interview with Total Italian Football back in March (h/t Football Italia):
I've played with many champions, and I try to steal secrets from everyone. But the player I like watching on the pitch the most is Barzagli. He's unbeatable in one-on-ones, he's impressive in training and he always gives 100 per cent in the matches. I think Andrea is an example for everyone.
That respect and admiration is well-merited, and there is a case to be made that since his arrival, Barzagli has been Juve's best and most consistent defender. He has continued to showcase that this term, playing at his usual high standards despite the team around him looking disjointed and out of sorts.
As can be seen in the table below—compiled using figures from WhoScored.com—his statistical output compares favourably with previous seasons. Brilliant at reading the game and anticipating what an opponent's next move will be, he is able to deny space and time to even the very best strikers he lines up against.
Yet as Juventus lost to 1-0 AC Milan on Saturday evening, he was visibly irritated as he left the field, stopping to give an interview to Sky Italia (h/t Football Italia) in which he made his feelings abundantly clear despite praise being given for his own performance:
I am pretty angry because we lost, so I can't really comment on how I did.
I just have to say that two moments of the match went badly for us. We actually played better than in other occasions when we won, but if we lost then evidently it means we must do better.
Going on to say that the Bianconeri had more than an hour to make up for Miralem Pjanic's disallowed goal, Barzagli said the team had "failed." Demanding such a high standard from himself and his team-mates is part of what separates both the man himself and Juventus in general from other teams.
Yet as the FourFourTwo StatsZone graphic in the tweet above shows, the 35-year-old certainly did all he could to overcome the Rossoneri. Completing 54 of his 59 pass attempts, Barzagli also made one tackle, one interception and five clearances, while he was in position to block two shots from Milan players.
Faced with Carlos Bacca, his timing was impeccable as usual, not committing a single foul as he denied the Colombian striker anything close to a goalscoring opportunity. It was a typical Barzagli performance, a consummate display from a player clearly at his very best throughout this and the previous three seasons.
He has shaken off injury concerns to return to his peak, playing a vital role as the Bianconeri won two consecutive league-and-cup doubles, and he still has much to offer. Barzagli is clearly coming close to the end of his career, but he is not done yet, and that is something Juventus should be truly thankful for.
The Fiesole native showed against Milan just what he can do, and hopefully his team-mates will match that level of performance in a crucial week of fixtures. Sampdoria, Napoli and Olympique Lyonnais are the club's next three opponents, and Andrea Barzagli will undoubtedly be ready.