Every transfer season for the last 20 years, the biggest transfers and headlines have been reserved for attacking players. Ronaldo (twice), Suarez, Kaka, Neymar, Mbappe, Sancho, Hazard, Dembele, Griezmann, Coutinho, and so on. All players who either broke the global transfer record or were sold for close to, if not over, 100 million Euros. They also were the blockbuster transfers for their respective clubs in hopes that they would propel them into success. And while that has been the case in some instances, we are starting to see a new trend in the world football market.
Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini have set the standard for a Centre-Back partnership. At the EUROs, they defied father time and bossed the best attackers and playmakers in all of Europe. This pair compliments each other perfectly and sometimes it seems like they even communicate telepathically. Bonucci is the finesse and more technical of the pair with a passing ability that is second to none for a defender. He also can venture forward and be a goal threat through the air or with a shot from distance. As for Chiellini, he is the heart and soul of the defense; the embodiment of “Grinta” that is so rare to find in players today. He will go to war and keep fighting even if blood is streaming down his face (he actually did this against Real Madrid in the Champions League). He celebrates tackles like forwards celebrate goals, and he has been the best at his craft for the better part of a decade. Chiellini will tear you down and rip your heart on the pitch, but then give you a hug and a smile as soon as the final whistle blows. Juventus and Italy were blessed to have these two at that same time, and now every club in the world is spending tons of money in search for a similar version of this.
Chiellini and Bonucci have played 336 games together between club and country over the last 11 years, which is a testament to their longevity as high-level defenders and to the comfort and understanding they have developed together. Juventus and Italy in this time have also boasted the best defenses in the world over that period of time, and this has not gone unnoticed. In 2018, Man City broke the world record fee for a defender at the time to pair Aymeric Laporte with John Stones (their other 50+ million-euro defender). Liverpool went on to shatter that record in the same transfer window as they paid 85 million euro for Virgil Van Dijk to anchor their defense and pair him with Joel Matip. The very next summer was truly the summer of defender transfers as Lucas Hernandez went to Bayern in an 80-million-euro deal, Matthijs De Ligt went to Juventus in a 75-million-euro deal, and Harry Maguire broke the defender transfer record for a defender yet again in a 90 million euro deal to Manchester United. Last summer saw Ruben Dias move to Man City in a nearly 70 million-euro-deal to pair him with Laporte, and this summer just saw Manchester United spend 50+ million-euro on Raphael Varane to pair with Maguire.
So, why does all this matter? Each of these moves has been an attempt to create long-lasting CB partnerships to serve as the anchor of their teams, which is exactly what Juventus did in 2010. Granted, Juventus had a vaunted back 3 including Barzagli until 2014 (which Man City replicated at times this year as well). However, it serves as no coincidence that teams are now splashing the cash in search for a Chiellini-Bonucci partnership that can provide stability and security for the entire team. Two excellent centre-backs with complimenting skillsets is very difficult to find, and teams are clearly willing to pay for the chance at having it. Even Juventus secured De Ligt at 19 years old to groom him under the tutelage of two modern greats so that he can step right in (albeit, he has already become one of the best defenders in the world and if all 3 are healthy, a De Ligt-Chiellini partnership is more likely).
Juventus provided the formula for long-term success 10 years ago, and it took all this time for teams to figure it out. It takes 2 great CBs with longevity, chemistry, and a complimentary skillset in order to have a decade of dominance. The difference is that now it probably costs well upwards of 100 million euros to find that.