‘Sandro Tonali is the new Andrea Pirlo!’
‘He’s the patron saint of passing a football!!’
‘He’s like a mix between Fergie and Jesus!!!’
These are just some of the Twitter replies you’ll see (usually in Italian, mind you) to a ‘Sandro Tonali Set for MEGA MONEY Move to Juventus‘ (also usually in Italian) article from Tuttosport, Gazzetta dello Sport and/or Corriere dello Sport.
So no, it’s not an exaggeration to say that literally every time ‘Juventus’ and ‘Tonali’ are mentioned in the same breath, Juventini the world over collectively blow their top.
And yes, due to the blowing of collective tops (pre-watershed thoughts people) it’s pretty clear that Juventus fans want their club to sign Tonali. For many, he’s the answer to the midfield conundrum which has dogged the club ever since the quartet of Andrea Pirlo, Arturo Vidal, Paul Pogba and Claudio Marchisio was broken up, because:
A) He is the spitting image of a quarter of that midfield – Pirlo…obviously…he doesn’t have a mohawk…or Marchisio’s granite cheekbones.
B) He has the same passport as half of that midfield – Italian, like Pirlo and Marchisio, which for Juve fans who take pride in the ItalJuve connection which bred so much success for the club and the Azzurri over the years, is quite important.
C) He infuses the talents of three quarters of that midfield – Tonali has a similar (not quite as good) passing range to Pirlo, a similar will to win to Marchisio, and a similar ability in the tackle (pre-watershed thoughts people) to Vidal.
D) He has something in common with the whole of that midfield – Tonali is better than anything Juventus currently have…
…Or is he?
As while Juventus fans have gawked over every Tonali YouTube compilation, social clip, etc. throughout the last 12 months, a Juventus midfielder has quietly developing into one of the very best on the peninsula. And you know who I’m on about, his name is in the title: it’s Rodrigo Bentancur.
Signed quietly while Carlos Tevez was loudly on his way from Juventus to Boca Juniors, the move to bring in Bentancur was seen by many as a shrewd one, but not an inspired one. ‘One for the future’, ‘nice pick-up for the squad’, ‘good deputy to Miralem Pjanic’ were the prevailing sentiments from Juventini as the lanky Uruguayan landed in Turin.
And for the first two seasons of his Bianconeri career, these sentiments proved to be more than justifiable. Bentancur remained below Pjanic in the pecking order, and when he did play, he put in merely commendable performances, usually playing the ball sideways and recycling possession instead of making the most of it.
But this season, something’s changed.
After flirting with mediocrity for a few seasons, Pjanic has become downright mediocre (as you can probably tell by the fact that Juve would literally swap him for a Flump and a pack of Monster Munch this summer), and Bentancur has stepped up to take his place at the heart of the midfield.
With the backing of Maurizio Sarri at said heart of Juve’s midfield, the Uruguayan has become a much more progressive footballer – one with the confidence to make the most of his time on the ball. Rather than simply recycling possession, throughout 2020 the youngster has been willing to go for that killer pass, to make that killer burst into the final third, and become a genuine match-winner for the club.
That’s exactly what he has become.
This season, in Serie A alone, the 22-year-old has assisted six goals – more than any other player at the club…more than Sandro Tonali too. And that’s an even more remarkable stat when you consider that prior to the 2019/20 season, Bentancur had assisted just six goals ever.
None of this is to say that, if given the opportunity, Juventus should opt against signing Sandro Tonali. Obviously it’s not – Tonali is clearly an astonishing gifted young footballer. But with COVID-19 possibly putting a halt to most of Juve’s transfer plans for the summer – especially ones involving huge transfer fees – maybe it’s time for Juventini to finally see Bentancur for what he actually is: the new leader of their club’s midfield.