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Benvenuto Alla Juventus: LÚCIO – Crossing the Inter/Juve Divide

Having completed his medical tests earlier this week, 34-year-old Brazilian defender LÚCIO is the latest of Juve’s Summer acquisitions. He joins the Bianconeri on a free transfer and a two-year contract (with a wage of €2.3m/year + bonuses), keeping him with the club until 30 June 2014.

 

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It may come as a complete shock to readers of this website, but relations between Juventus and Inter in recent years have been rather strained and interactions between the two sets of fans less than cordial. [EDITOR's NOTE: For realz people, believe us!] The hostility between the two clubs has gone as far as derailing transfers, most notably Dejan Stankovic, who was widely acknowledged to have come to an agreement with Juve, only for fan protests in Turin to end negotiations before the move materialized.

Despite this gulf of rivalry and deeply-rooted bitterness, the situation is not like Barcelona-Real Madrid, where a transfer across Spain results in pig ears on the pitch. There have been some relatively famous transfers between Inter and Juve, all mostly beneficial to us (e.g. the Fabio Cannavaro/Fabio Carini swap, when Moggi swapped a 3rd-choice goalkeeper for what would become a world-class Ballon d’Or laureate; or Juve snatching the most underrated midfielder in the world, Cristiano Zanetti, on a free transfer).

Earlier this week, Juventus signed another experienced professional on a free transfer from Inter: Brazilian defender LÚCIO.

The 34 year-old has had a long career, filled with 2-4 year stints at clubs of increasing stature. He played for a big club in Brazil (Internacional), before stepping up to the Bundesliga with Leverkusen. After a few excellent years, Lúcio moved up the German ladder by transferring to Bayern Munich, where he won a host of trophies. With Louis Van Gaal clearing house at the Bavarian club, the defender decided to move to Italy, where he joined Mourinho’s Inter. A few years later, applying to Serie A the same move he did within the Bundesliga, Lúcio decided to switch from a big club to the greatest club.

 

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Brazil is not particularly known for having the greatest defensive players. Their full-backs are most famous for their offensive prowess (Carlos Alberto, Roberto Carlos, Cafu, Maicon, Dani Alves…), while their central defenders usually combine good defense with intermittent errors, like Roma defender (and Lúcio’s long-time international teammate) Juan.

Lúcio is in some ways a stereotypical Brazilian defender. Despite his tall stature, he is well-known for his sweeper-like forward runs, carrying the ball out of defense and igniting a counter-attack. While back at Leverkusen, he managed to score 15 goals in 92 games. He excels with the ball at his feet, being an efficient and intelligent passer, which will certainly help when stepping in for a player like Leonardo Bonucci. Also a physical player with excellent aerial abilities, he is much alike Giorgio Chiellini under that aspect.

The worrying thing about Lúcio signing with Juventus is that at 34 years of age, his career is certainly on the decline. While he enjoyed a great spell of form under José Mourinho at ‘not-Atalanta’, the defender has been more and more error-prone in recent years, often getting caught out of position up the field, making errors in marking, and just generally not being the experienced rock Andrea Ranocchia had hoped to play with.

Still, those quick to point out Lúcio was at the heart of a defense conceding 55 goals this year, should also do well to remember that Chiellini, Bonucci, and Barzagli were all key in a team that conceded 47 under Gigi Delneri last year (in 2007-08, Barzagli was infamously captain of Palermo when they conceded the third-most amount of goals of Serie A). And yet, Juve’s center-back trio has set the record for the best-ever Juventus defense in history the following season.

Still, despite a few rocky season recently, Lúcio brings to Juventus something which had been crucially missing over the last few years, and which started to resurface at Vinovo only recently: the pedigree of a CHAMPION!

Flash-back to the mid-90s. Having missed out on the UEFA Champions League the previous year (back then, finishing 2nd in Serie A only qualified you for the UEFA Cup), Juventus returned to the competition in full force in 1995-96 as Scudetto champions. Marcello Lippi wanted to add some experience to the defense, so he brought Pietro Vierchowod to the club.

Vierchowod had played in the biggest heights of Italian football during a long career at Sampdoria, winning the Scudetto and losing in the Champions League final to Barcelona with the Blucerchiati. However, at 37 years of age, he was seen as finished. Instead, Vierchowod added a significant contribution to Juve’s defense, starting in the Champions League final at center-back as the Bianconeri defeated Ajax on penalties.

While Vierchowod and Lúcio are far different types of players, the Brazilian too adds a massive amount of experience to the team. He’s won league titles and cups in Germany and Italy, been in a Champions League final twice (scoring once for Leverkusen in the game with “that” Zidane goal) and won a FIFA World Cup for Brazil as well as two Confederations Cups (in 2009, he also scored the winning goal in the competition’s final).

Most importantly, one must realize Lúcio has not been brought on to be “the rock” of the Juve defense, but rather as a very experienced CB to be used in squad rotation. Indeed, beyond the starting center-back trio of Chiello-Barza-Bonnie, Conte could only rely on Martin Cáceres as back-up and thus needed some extra depth. Last year was remarkable for the few amount of injuries sustained, yet assistant coach Angelo Alessio still had to line up with Cáceres-Vidal in the central defense when traveling away to Genoa.

Prior to Lúcio’s signing, names like Bruno Alves, Salvatore Bocchetti, and Mats Hummels had been thrown around and accosted to Juve’s name, but all these players would have commanded a significant transfer fee and probably would not be content with a bench role, something which an aging 34 year-old defender is more likely to accept.

 

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Arriving on a free transfer with a two-year contract, Lúcio is an experienced back-up, exactly what Juventus needed in this mercato. While Juve fans have not warmed to the transfer due to his Inter past, the Brazilian has proven to be a model professional, as exemplified by his performances at both Leverkusen and Bayern Munich. In his first interview as a Juventus player, Lucio appeared calm, downplayed his Inter past on multiple occasions (“the past is the past”), and stated he still had hunger for trophies. That’ll do.

Benvenuto a Torino, Lúcio !

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