It's been just about 18 months since Andrea Barzagli returned to his homeland and signed for Juventus. It was an unheralded signing to say the very least. One that only cost about half the amount — €300,000 — that Cristiano Ronaldo makes in a week? My God! Beppe Marotta must know what he's doing!
Now, I have another question for you:
Since he joined Juventus in January of 2011, can you remember how many bad games Barzagli has had? Seriously, can you? I'm sure it isn't many at all. In fact, I know it isn't many at all.
In two years, Barzagli has become one of the best, most consistent defenders in the world. He doesn't do anything spectacular. He doesn't fill up the stat sheet. He doesn't crash into people like the man who plays on the other side of Juventus' defense, Giorgio Chiellini. He is just as rock solid as you can get.
In his short Juventus career, Barzagli has done the following:
- Been part of the best defense Serie A has ever seen statistically.
- Won the Scudetto in his first-full season with Juventus, playing in 35 games (34 starts) in the process.
- Started all but one game this season in a defense that is far and away the best in the league.
- Gone from the international outskirts and three years away from the Italian national team. The only reason as to why news is made in regards to Barzagli and the Azzurri roster is when he isn't called up by Cesare Prandelli.
- Become one of the most reliable defenders in Italy and Europe.
- Did I mention that, in a world where cash is splashed on players like it's a real-world FIFA13 career mode, Barzagli cost basically nothing? Just making sure.
Out of everything that Barzagli has done with Juventus, the biggest thing for me is just how incredibly consistent he is. He's had a few bad games here and there, but that's it. There's no extended dip in form like some players suffer after having a fantastic couple of months. There's no serious concern as to whether he will actually ever have a serious poor spell for an extended period of time. Barzagli is just as steady as he can be — whether it's on the right or left side of Juve's three-man defense — and there's no slowing him down.
It's just incredible that somebody who was trying to rediscover himself as a footballer after coming back to Italy for peanuts and then suddenly is better than ever. It doesn't happen often, let alone for somebody who is now in their early 30s.
But at the same time, the fact that Barzagli really isn't the kind of defender that can be simply measured by statistics is almost as surprising. Take that, WhoScored nerds! (Wait, I'm one of those people.)
Case in point: Barzagli is only averaging 2.2 tackles per game in Serie A this season. There are six players — five of those being starters — who have more tackles on a game-by-game basis, including the incredibly defensive Andrea Pirlo. No, seriously. Pirlo is averaging more tackles than Barzagli. Giorgio Chiellini is averaging over three. And Arturo Vidal, unsurprisingly, is kicking everybody's ass.
Yet, there's Barzagli, as important as anybody else outside of probably Pirlo. If there is somebody who really can only truly be evaluated by the Eye Test, then Barzagli is who it was created for. Chiellini might get more praise because he has the player-crushing tackles that fill up YouTube highlight videos, but Barzagli has the same kind of impact — in his own way, of course.
That's why Andrea Barzagli has been one of the best signings Beppe Marotta will ever make. Forget trying to lure somebody to be Juve's top striker, the backbone of the team is it's defense — and Barzagli is clearly one of the biggest reasons why that is.
Or, we could just go and wrap this thing up with what Jorid said at the end of last season in the defenders' review article:
There's really not much of a need to go to great lengths with numbers to analyze his season, the man was a breathing wall. His performances simply fantastic, his presence in Juve's defense pivotal in both ensuring the great season Chiellini played and helping with Leo Bonucci's development as a central defender.
Bingo. /drops mic