While Juventus as a club has seemingly come back from the dark ages of four or five years ago, the same can be said for Andrea Barzagli. He arrived in Turin after 2 1/2 years in Germany with Wolfsburg for a transfer fee that seemingly a bag of balls and a couple small wads of cash. Since then, he has not only been one of the most consistent Juventus players, but also one of the better — and underrated — defenders in all of Europe.
Barzagli's career renaissance has come at the same time that Juventus has returned to prominence. Coincidence? I think not. Just look at how good Juve's defense has been over the last three years under Antonio Conte — first in Serie A, first in Serie A, first in Serie A. Notice the pattern? A lot of that has to do with the 33-year-old Barzagli.
He's not the WhoScored darling like teammate Giorgio Chiellini, and that's perfectly okay. Would we want Barzagli any other way besides maybe 10 years younger so he could stay with Juve just that much longer? Nope. Barzagli is just unspectacularly brilliant in every sense of the term. A lot of the time he makes things look easy, other times he comes sliding in out of nowhere to stop the opponents' attack down the right wing.
There's a reason why the #WALLzagli hashtag on Twitter gets so much run during Juventus games Barzagli takes part in. And that's because he's just so good at being so incredibly consistent.
Caps: 47, Goals: 0
Service for Italy: Do you remember that Barzagli was on the Italy squad that won the World Cup in 2006? It's been awhile, you know, so it's okay if you had forgotten. It was a rather forgettable tournament for Barzagli — who had a handful of caps entering the tournament — even though Italy won the whole damn thing. Barzagli returning to Serie A has been the best thing for his career — both in terms of playing for Juventus and getting back into the national team picture.
What makes him interesting: Simply put, Barzagli is one of the most consistent defenders in the business. While some players at the same position get more attention for whatever reason, Barzagli just keeps truckin' along, playing fantastic football basically every time he steps on the field. Sometimes when players hit their 30s, they suddenly start to regress and show their age. In Barzagli's case, he has only gotten better as he enters his mid-30s. Not exactly how you draw it up, but you won't find me complaining about Barzagli suddenly finding the fountain of youth in a Juventus jersey.
And like Andrea Pirlo, you can't forget the beard. It just adds to the awesomeness.
What to expect in Brazil: If Barzagli is healthy — and that's been a problem for him the past 12 months — then I wouldn't expect anything less than a typical Barzagli showing. That would mean exactly what we've seen from him over the past three years since he returned to Italy. But the nagging injuries are still there hovering over our heads just like they were during this past Juventus season. It seemed as though just when Barzagli was starting to play his best again, something would happen to keep him out a couple more weeks.
If Barzagli stays healthy, then the partnership in the center of Italy's defense should be okay. Who knows if the rest of the defense will give us as much comfort as those two, but at least we know that Barzagli will be Barzagli.