Manchester City may have to pay a world record fee for a defender if they are to succeed in their efforts to sign Leonardo Bonucci this summer, with Juventus continuing to adopt a hard-line stance over the coveted Italy centre-half.
City enquired about purchasing Bonucci last summer after failing to sign Aymeric Laporte from Athletic Bilbao only to be put off by Juventus’s £50 million valuation of a player who turns 30 a week on Monday.
Nonetheless, Bonucci remains Pep Guardiola’s priority defensive target as the manager bids to bolster his back line in what is expected to be a huge overhaul of City’s playing squad during the close season.
Chelsea and Manchester United also harbour an interest in Bonucci, and with the player having more than four years to run on the new contract he signed in December, there is a grudging acceptance that his price is likely to remain high, despite tensions in his relationship with the Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri. Any deal could threaten the world record £50 million fee for a defender that Paris St-Germain paid Chelsea David Luiz in 2014.
“City want Bonucci,” a well-placed source told Telegraph Sport. “Centre-half has been a problem position for the club and they know they need to get it right this summer.”
City signed John Stones for an initial £47.5 million from Everton last summer and believe the young England defender will benefit from playing alongside such an experienced, pedigree centre-half like Bonucci after a number of failed gambles in the transfer market that have increased the pressure on director of football, Txiki Begiristain.
Eliaquim Mangala, currently on loan at Valencia, will be sold this summer if a suitable offer is forthcoming, three years after the France centre-half’s eye-watering £42 million move from Porto. Nicolas Otamendi has also disappointed since joining City for £32 million from Valencia in 2015.
City’s lack of a defensive leader has been compounded by Vincent Kompany’s perennial injury problems and Bonucci is considered a natural, albeit expensive, replacement for the Belgian, who could also depart in the summer. Although almost 30, Guardiola is convinced Bonucci has several years ahead of him at the top of European football.
Antonio Conte, the Chelsea manager who managed Bonucci at Juventus, also wants to strength his central defence this summer, but the Premier League leaders are leading the race to sign the £50 million rated Virgil van Dijk from Southampton and whether they would be willing to pay a similar fee to snare Bonucci is unclear. Jose Mourinho also craves a top class central defender at United.
Whether a run-in between Bonucci and Allegri plays into the hands of the player’s Premier League suitors remains to be seen, although it appears to have had little bearing on the performances of the defender, who has been instrumental in Juventus’s march towards a sixth successive Serie A title as well as the Champions League semi-finals.
Allegri excluded Bonucci from his squad for Juventus’s Round of 16 tie away to FC Porto after a touch-line bust-up during a Serie A victory over Palermo in February, when the coach was caught on camera shouting “shut up d------d, focus on the game, f--- off” at the defender. Bonucci reacted by telling Allegri to “go to hell” before later apologising to team-mates by taking the squad out for dinner ahead of the return leg against Porto.
Bonucci was reported as saying at the time: “I clarified things face to face with Allegri, I accepted his decision, I will pay for a dinner for the team next week. 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.”