Even if the Italy Men’s National Team are not to retain the European Championship trophy in Germany this summer, the summer’s tournament would arguably have provided a fitting send-off for legendary defender Leonardo Bonucci. The ex-Juventus defender dragged his career to its conclusion in Turkey, ever hopeful of a recall by coach Luciano Spalletti.

The end of the 2023/24 season saw Bonucci announce his retirement at 37, when his last contract with Juventus was due to end. Had he still be playing with the Bianconeri, he would have rightly received a hero’s farewell in Turin. But he instead waved goodbye to an uninterested Fenerbahce crowd, whom he had joined less than six months earlier, after a similarly short-lived spell with Union Berlin after his Serie A exit last summer.

However, after carving out a career that reads like a gripping novel – filled with disappointment, triumph, betrayal, redemption, and, occasionally controversy, it was probably not unexpected that the final chapter of Bonucci’s journey through the world of football would end unpredictably.

Soccer Football – Serie A – Juventus v Salernitana – Allianz Stadium, Turin, Italy – September 11, 2022 Juventus’ Leonardo Bonucci celebrates scoring their second goal REUTERS/Alberto Lingria

Leonardo Bonucci’s career: How resilience brought him back to Serie A stardom

After starring for hometown club Viterbese and being picked up by Serie A giants Inter, Bonucci‘s story appeared set to follow the traditional path of a rising star, but like many young Italian prospects, making the grade at a resurgent Nerazzurri under Roberto Mancini proved tough. The young Leo looked set to be lost amid a series of spells away from the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza.

A resilience and determination that would take the centre-back to the pinnacle of world football allowed him to ignore the fact that he was again plying his trade in the lower reaches of the system – with Treviso and then Pisa in Serie B – and was soon back in the top flight with Bari for 2009/10.

Although forced to watch former employers Inter lift a historic treble at the end of that season, within months Bonucci would join Juventus and embark on a period of success that few would have expected.

Leonardo Bonucci attempts to win the ball back for Bari against Diego Milito. [@Getty]

Juventus’ BBBC: Buffon, Bonucci, Barzagli and Chiellini key to dominance

At a Juventus who were still recovering from the Calciopoli scandal, Bonucci quickly became part of the imposing BBC defence alongside Andrea Barzagli and Giorgio Chiellini and in front of the legendary Gianluigi Buffon.

Together, they were almost impenetrable and led the Old Lady to an era of unprecedented domestic dominance in Serie A.

Beyond the grit and courage Bonucci displayed when chasing away an armed robber who attempted to steal his watch in October 2012, the Italian’s technique and knack for scoring crucial goals brought comparisons with German libero Franz Beckenbauer and he soon became one of few players to appear for the Azzurri without appearing at any international youth level.

However, as Bonucci lacked the humility of defensive partner Chiellini or the charisma of Buffon, some overlook his contribution to that Juventus side’s success, but eight Serie A titles, four Coppa Italia trophies, five Supercoppa Italiana wins and two Champions League finals are testament to his undoubted influence.

Juventus legacy almost overshadowed by constant controversies

His 300th appearance for the Bianconeri should have been a moment of celebration, but Bonucci would not let some criticism from coach Massimiliano Allegri in the wake of a Palermo consolation goal during a 4-1 win in February 2017 pass. His fiery temperament led to a touchline spat, fine and exclusion from the squad for the next game.

The stubbornness of Bonucci allowed the issue to fester and appeared to be provoking both club and supporters when moving to rivals AC Milan in a shock €42 million move when the campaign ended. He even scored on his return to Turin and celebrated with his typical celebration, much to the anger of many at Juventus.

They soon forgot any feelings of betrayal, though, and he returned 12 months later and played a crucial role in his final Scudetto triumph with the Bianconeri in 2019/20.

Manuel Locatelli & Leonardo Bonucci battling AC Milan’s Olivier Giroud. [acmilan]

A laughable dive in December 2012, also against Palermo, had also brought disappointment from Juventus supporters, given the club are often accused by opposing fans of being favoured by officials. Bonucci received a one-match ban and €2,000 fine from the FIGC – Italian Football Federation – but similar incidents throughout his career show a win-at-all-costs persona.

The inability to defend teammate Moise Kean when faced with racial abuse from Cagliari supporters, and actively suggesting that the striker was somehow at fault for celebrating in front of them, is harder to defend.

Even though Bonucci attempted to clarify his comments later, it irreversibly stained his character for many.

Leonardo Bonucci’s legacy: How should he be remembered in retirement?

Leonardo Bonucci celebrates a Juventus goal away. (@juventusfcen)

Whether you love him or loathe him, Bonucci has been one of the most influential defenders of his generation and will remain a legendary figure for both Juventus and Italy for his contributions to their respective successes.

For his country, his equalising goal against England in the 2020 European Championship final and converted penalty in the shootout won’t be forgotten in a hurry.

Bonucci‘s career was one of near unrivalled success, ending with 19 major club trophies. He reached remarkable highs during a 19-year professional career and those will live longer in the memory than the occasional lows.

Now, with Bonucci‘s announcement to hang up his boots still fresh, though, it’s hard to escape the feeling that he should have called time on his career a year earlier.