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From afterthought to centerpiece: Danilo, the captain of Juventus

The Brazilian arrived to little enthusiasm but has developed into a critical piece for Juventus.

Juventus v Torino FC - Serie A Photo by Sportinfoto/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

Seneca says that if you don’t know the port by which you’re sailing, no wind is favorable, but I tell you that if you cannot change course when blown by a wayward gust, you’re already lost.

More than halfway into a piece about what the most recent results might have to say about Max Allegri’s ability to change, the wind changed. I hit COMMAND + A, then backspace, and the page was blank.

I started writing about Danilo.

Here’s the moment that did it for me: In the wildest Derby della Mole I’ve ever seen, when the referee felt the little buzz on his wrist and pointed to the center of the pitch signaling for a goal from Danilo’s thunderous header, the first thing the captain did, an expression of pure ecstasy on his face, was grab the black and white stripes of his Juventus kit.

Danilo’s dedication, usefulness, and, most simply, love for this club are now a reliable fixture of the Old Lady’s weekly routine. When the Brazilian arrived in Turin almost four years ago, I don’t think there was a single Juventus fan who could’ve predicted that future. In a season rife with scandal, one in which the prospects of a trophy seem dim, Danilo’s story is the kind of thing that could easily be overlooked. But there is no diminishing his importante for Juventus this season and in the years to come.

What we said, what we expected

Danilo arrived from Manchester City in the eventful summer of 2019, the same summer that saw the arrivals of Matthijs de Ligt, Aaron Ramsey, and Adrien Rabiot. Of the four, I’ll give you a wild guess who garnered the least amount of fanfare.

As we were processing the swap deal with City, we grumbled about the loss of Joao Cancelo — who, truly, had been one of the team’s best players the prior season despite his performances waning in the latter months of the campaign — about as much as we downplayed the arrival of Danilo, whose appearances had dwindled for Pep’s Premier League giants. There was no doubt that the feeling was giving away a weapon in exchange for, at best, a rotational piece in need of a little reboot.

We worried about receiving a player who “had clearly fallen down on the depth chart,” who “formerly came with a lot of hype” from Porto and Real Madrid to England; clearly the shimmer had faded. We noted that “we’ve certainly seen bigger crowds” welcoming a player, as maybe two dozen showed up to J-Medical for autographs.

And perhaps the most pessimistic view:

“This is a big-money kind of move involving a talented defender — and it’s not like Danilo is being talked about as being that guy. It’s Cancelo being talked about as the talented defender, not Danilo. It’s the Brazilian who has been marred by inconsistencies and could very well be looking at his last chance at a big club when it comes to joining Juventus.”

This, though, is my favorite piece from that summer. When, after a single game in Serie A — a tidy 1-0 win over Parma — we asked when we would see the summer’s new additions, Danilo’s name didn’t even make the list. There was a great deal of consternation about de Ligt not starting, Rabiot made an appearance as a substitute, and Ramsey, in a stupidly obvious sign of things to come, like oversized golden arches appearing on the interstate horizon announcing a Big Mac and fries, missed the game due to back pain.

Time is funny. De Ligt is gone, Ramsey is gone, and Rabiot’s time is surely almost up. Not only is Danilo going to be the longest-lasting of this bunch, he’ll go down as the most important at a time when the club needed important players.

In this case, time gave us one of those lovely moments to admit how wrong we were.

A new heartbeat for the Old Lady

Before the reaction to his glorious, Derby della Mole-tying header, Danilo hit the opposite end of the reaction spectrum on the other side of the pitch right before halftime ended. When Antonio Sanabria snuck behind the Juventus backline and tucked in a wonderful finish at Wojciech Szczęsny’s near post, the Brazilian swiped at the turf with two hands.

I love that: he feels it all. The good, the bad, the stuff that’s his fault, the stuff that’s not. That’s a captain. I know that, in the coming weeks, Leonardo Bonucci will at some point start a game in his return from injury, and that when he does so he’ll take the captain’s armband from Danilo, but at this juncture there’s no doubt who is the beating, living heart of the black and white.

Danilo turns 32 this summer, and even with his now-official contract extension through 2025 signed there is no way to know, now, how he will be remembered. In all probability, he won’t reach the hallowed ground in the Juventus annals of someone like Giorgio Chiellini, let alone Gianluigi Buffon; he might not even reach the level of long fixtures like Andrea Barzagli and, when he retires, Bonucci. But in a dark and difficult time for Juventus, Danilo is the most important player, the fulcrum upon which the future can turn.

Right now, Danilo is Juventus. And I’m not sure I’d rather that be the case for anyone else on this squad, now or before. There are times when the right person materializes at the right moment, the sort of thing that makes one think about words like fate and destiny, that makes one think about how events in the past, no matter how ephemeral they seemed at the time, no matter how trivial, were the indelible beginnings of an epic story.