Linked with a £25 million move to Arsenal at the end last season, it now seems that Daniele Rugani is set to become Maurizio Sarri’s second Chelsea signing.
A £45 million deal is being widely reported as drawing ever-closer, a deal which would make him the fourth-most expensive centre back in the world.
As a 23-year-old who has been tipped for great things, this appears an exciting signing at face-value. But as a player who sat on the Juventus bench 15 times throughout last season’s Serie A fixtures, why are Chelsea willing to spend so much on a player struggling to break into the Old Lady’s first team, especially when he’s rumoured to have a release clause of £30 million tied into his current contract?
In search of time
During his third full season with the Bianconeri, Rugani has again failed to fully establish himself in the starting eleven.
With only 22 starts from Juventus’ 38 league fixtures last season, and more pointedly, only one start (and one further 20-minute substitute appearance) from their ten Champions League matches, he is currently the third-choice for the two available centre back slots.
To put this into context, both Giorgio Chiellini and Medhi Benatia were in superb form last season. However, Rugani has made clear his desire, and the necessity, for more playing time if his own career is to progress.
A wanted man
Rugani’s agent, Davide Torchia, recently claimed that Juventus continue to view his player as unsellable.
While this is exactly the sort of noise a good agent should be making, it also makes sense that the player Juventus brought back to their club in 2015 is still viewed as the long-term solution for their defence.
Yet while Rugani was expected to step into the void left by Leonardo Bonucci’s shock move to AC Milan last summer, Max Allegri has continually left the young centre back on standby.
With another impressive defender also waiting on the sidelines in the shape of Mattia Caldara, Rugani’s situation is further complicated. Many in Turin believe a loan move will best serve both player and club, however, some of Europe’s top clubs are now circling and Chelsea appears to be heading the queue.
Every player has their price
So what would Chelsea get for their money?
Italian football has a rich heritage when it comes to centre backs so when a player is earmarked as the next great Italian defender, it’s enough to make you sit up and take notice.
A ball-playing defender who is comfortable in possession, Rugani finished last season with an average of 68.5 completed passes per game along with a 91% passing accuracy. While these figures may be slightly skewed by the fact he didn’t play in the “bigger games” of last season, they are highly impressive nonetheless.
At 6ft3 he also has a strong aerial presence and is a danger in set-pieces as well as commanding at the back. Despite his stature, he is not the most physical of defenders and relies upon intelligence with his game rather than brawn.
Would he fit in at Chelsea?
During the coming season, Maurizio Sarri is expected to revert Chelsea’s defence to a back-four. With four centre backs already at the club, the most obvious fallout from this appears to be the imminent departure of either David Luiz, Gary Cahill or perhaps both.
The biggest problem this leaves is three very similar centre backs for Sarri to choose between. Both Andreas Christensen and Antonio Rüdiger are, like Rugani, right-footed and defenders who lack physical dominance.
The system that Sarri employs, however, requires his central defenders to be positionally intelligent, and fast and energetic enough to play a high defensive line.
Furthermore, there will be numerous routines and trigger-movements that Sarri will expect his defenders to learn. While this will take time to instill into his new team, it’s something which Rugani is already acquainted with having spent two seasons playing under Sarri at Empoli.
Is Rugani worth £45m?
In truth… Who is?
Since he won the Serie B young player of the year award at the age of 19, Rugani has excited fans of Italian football.
The following year he cemented his credentials in Serie A. In playing every minute of Empoli’s league campaign, Rugani’s composed and consistent performances earned him a move to Juventus but didn’t return even a single caution from the 3,420 minutes of top-flight football.
While respecting Allegri’s philosophy of slowly integrating young players into his team, many Juventus fans have been disheartened by the lack of opportunities afforded to the 23-year-old.
With Rugani’s birthday looming next weekend, the player who was proclaimed as being a future great could find himself with a different future to that which many envisioned for him. If he does make a move to London, the mourning of his loss from Juventus fans will likely confirm how highly they value him.
Would this be a good signing for Chelsea? Let us know in the comments below.