Leonardo Bonucci's move from Juventus to AC Milan was undoubtedly one of the most shocking transfers in recent memory. The 30-year-old had spent seven seasons with the Bianconeri only to demand his departure back in July, stunning even those who pay close attention to the deals conducted by Italian clubs.
"The Bonucci switch was very surprising because it didn't fit many of the criteria you look in a potential deal," David Amoyal—a correspondent for transfer expert Gianluca Di Marzio's website—told Bleacher Report. "He left a team that was consistently going deep in the Champions League to join a team that wasn't in it. Certainly he received a substantial raise, but he left a great situation for one that had some uncertainty, especially when you factor in his age.
"For Juventus it was odd to see them sell such a good player to another Serie A team. When they lost the likes of Arturo Vidal and Paul Pogba in the name of being at the mercy of a player's will, they at least sent them abroad. But this transfer, though, is a reminder that the players we watch are human beings before they are athletes. Bonucci had personal reasons to want to stay in Italy and Juventus accommodated that out of respect for his family."
However, while it seemed that Milan had acquired one of the best central defenders in the world, his first few months at the San Siro have not gone well. The club signed 13 other new faces this past summer, and Vincenzo Montella has struggled to mould them into anything resembling a cohesive unit.
Of their opening 10 Serie A fixtures, the Rossoneri have managed jus five victories. While a loss to AS Roma was perhaps acceptable, defeats at the hands of Lazio, Sampdoria and crosstown rivals Inter Milan have seen the coach come under intense pressure.
Last weekend saw them held to a scoreless draw by Genoa, with Bonucci receiving a red card for elbowing Aleandro Rosi at a set piece. He was subsequently handed a two-game suspension, ruling him out of a clash with former club Juve and prompting his former mental coach to speak out about the player's struggles.
"Bonucci's a player that wasn't born as a champion but became one through hard work," Alberto Ferrarini—whose impact on Bonucci's career was discussed in this previous post—told Radio 24 (h/t Football Italia). "With his red card yesterday, he hit bottom, but now I'm convinced that there'll be a rebirth, as if one chapter was closed to open another. He's hungry about coming back stronger than before."
Bonucci has since distanced himself from those comments. "I disassociate myself entirely from what Alberto Ferrarini said today, which does not reflect my thoughts," he wrote on Twitter, per Ben Gladwell of ESPN FC.
While he may disagree with it, there is little doubt that Bonucci is struggling, with fans of his new side all too aware that he is playing nowhere near the level that they expected when celebrating his arrival.
"He's underperformed and is not the player he was at Juve," lifelong Milan supporter Gino De Blasio told Bleacher Report. "In some parts he's showing weaknesses that he didn't think he had himself. He looks lost on the pitch, and what he needs is proper management and a senior player to help him. I think most of the others are too scared to say something to him, but he needs to calm down, get off social media and just play. Simple as that!"
But if Bonucci and Milan have fallen way below what was expected before the 2017/18 campaign began, Juventus are also not yet reaching their previous high standards and have endured a number of setbacks themselves.
A 3-2 defeat to Lazio in the Supercoppa Italiana was followed by a comprehensive 3-0 loss against Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League. Yet the poor results would not stop there, as the Bianconeri were held 2-2 by Atalanta before being stunned by a Lazio side who became the first team to win in Turin in over two years.
They certainly have not struggled in attack—netting 31 goals in the opening 10 games of the Serie A season—but it has undoubtedly been a different story in defence. Without Bonucci, the once-imperious back line has looked nervous and devoid of confidence, already conceding 10 goals and fortunate that total is not already even higher.
Almost every player has looked worse than they did last term, with the continuity and communication nowhere near the required level—and the club seem all too aware of the difficulties.
"Everything can be improved, in life and in sport," director general Giuseppe Marotta recently told Mediaset Premium (h/t Football Italia). "In recent games we have not looked like the solid defence of last season, but I think any debate right now would be premature.
"Life has its natural course and there are choices in sport too. Today Bonucci is a Milan player because he chose to go there. We therefore are interested only in our own affairs and not problems that don't regard us."
While it would be extremely reductive to view Juve's problems as simply a direct result of Bonucci and indeed Dani Alves moving on, it is impossible to ignore that the team looks worse without a player who had been so important in previous campaigns.
"While I hate to admit it, we're missing Bonucci," Juve fan Andrea told Bleacher Report. "Forget his passing and what he could do on the ball, it's not having a defender in his prime holding that unit together that has really hurt in many of the games so far, and it seems to be affecting the other players."
Whether or not that is true, what is becoming increasingly evident is that the transfer has had no winners; Milan have yet to show any significant improvement, Bonucci looks a shadow of his former self and Juventus are not dominating as they have in years past.
Indeed, their aforementioned poor form has seen the Bianconeri fall behind in the title race, currently sitting three points adrift of leaders Napoli. While it is clearly not yet time to hit the panic button, it seems a seventh consecutive league title will have to be earned the hard way and there will at last be a genuine challenge to the Old Lady's throne.
That is partly due to increased competition, as Napoli, Inter and Roma look much-improved, but it is also a direct result of the surprising fragility. If they do fall short for the first time since 2011, many will look back on the day Bonucci first pulled on the red and black shirt of Milan as the start of their downfall.
Regardless of his shortcomings since joining the San Siro giants, the void he left behind in Turin is impossible to ignore. Neither party is ever likely to admit it, but Juventus miss Leonardo Bonucci, and Leonardo Bonucci misses Juventus.