Leonardo Bonucci is prepared to leave Juventus for the Premier League for what is likely to be a world-record transfer fee for a defender should the Serie A side not change coach this summer.
The Italy international has been approached by both Antonio Conte and Pep Guardiola to assess his interest in a close-season switch. Both the Chelsea and Manchester City managers want to make Bonucci the centrepoint of defensive rebuilds intended to turn their squads into genuine contenders to win the 2017-18 Champions League.
Bonucci, who is also admired by Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho, has encouraged the interest from the Premier League, and will make a decision on his future according to Juventus’ plans for the coming season. Important to the 29-year-old’s thinking is the future of Juve coach Massimiliano Allegri.
Allegri also holds a strong interest in working in English football and has allowed his name to be floated as a candidate to succeed Arsene Wenger at Arsenal. On course to secure a third consecutive Scudetto at Juve, the 49-year-old is also hopeful of being considered as a replacement for outgoing Barcelona coach Luis Enrique.
Though Juve, Allegri and Bonucci have gone to some lengths to publicly reconcile their differences, the relationship between coach and centre back has been damaged by an on-field argument during a February victory over Palermo.
Allegri excluded Bonucci from his squad for Juve’s Round of 16 visit to FC Porto after a touchline incident in which the coach was caught on camera shouting “shut up d*******d, f*** off,” at his defender. Bonucci responding by telling Allegri to “go to hell”.
By way of public apology to his team-mates, Bonucci took Juve’s squad out for a meal at a Torino trattoria in the week before the return leg with Porto. In on-record comments about the incident, he stated that he hoped to meet the terms of the improved contract he signed in December.
“I clarified things face to face with Allegri, I accepted his decision, I will pay for a dinner for the team next week,” said Bonucci. “Things are now even better than they were before. You need to take the positives from anything negative and it brought the group further together.
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“I don’t know if the boss will go to the Premier League, but I’m owned by this club and the club will decide whether or not to sell me. I hope to honour the contract.”
Bonucci’s basic salary was €1.7million net before December’s renewal, with both Chelsea and Manchester City ready to offer a significant pay rise to bring him to the Premier League. The transfer fee required to extract the Italian from Juve is expected to exceed the initial £47.5m City paid to bring John Stones from Everton last summer.
Although Conte holds the advantage of having worked with Bonucci at club level for a three-season spell in which he successfully reshaped Juve’s formation to field the defender alongside Andrea Barzagli and Giorgio Chiellini, and subsequently as national team coach, the Chelsea manager must first persuade the London club to spend heavily on an individual who turns 30 next month.
Chelsea have signalled their intention to improve and extend Conte’s contract as a reward for winning the Premier League in his first season in English football.
Their manager, however, will utilise negotiations over a new deal to insist on aggressive investment in a first-team squad he argues is unsuited to the twin demands of retaining the title and properly competing for the Champions League.
Despite ceding a two-goal advantage to exit the Champions League in the Round of 16 and embroiling City in a battle to qualify for next season’s competition, Guardiola has been promised complete support in the transfer market.
City established a new high watermark for Premier League spending on transfer fees ahead of the Catalan’s first campaign at the club, and are expected to exceed that sum this summer with central defence again prioritised for reinforcement.