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What Bonucci, Cuadrado, and Giuntoli tell us about loyalty

Exploring the concept of loyalty in the situations of Juan Cuadrado and Leonardo Bonucci.

Juventus v Maccabi Haifa FC: Group H - UEFA Champions League Photo by Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images

One year ago, Juan Cuadrado and Leonardo Bonucci seemed like two players who, although clearly at the tail end of their illustrious careers, each had a couple campaigns left in the black and white stripes of Juventus. The center back went so far as to explicitly say he was planning on retiring after the 2023-24 season. If nothing else, each player seemed to offer depth, experience, and a solid locker room presence to the squad.

What a difference a year makes.

One year later, Cuadrado departed Turin and has since signed for Inter Milan.

One year later, Cristiano Giuntioli, days into his new job atop of Juve’s sporting area, told Bonucci he was not part of the club’s plans.

Both of these decisions raise questions on the opposite side of the same coin: Is Johnny Square going to Inter some sort of betrayal of Juventino loyalty as a player? Is Giuntoli’s dealing with Bonucci an act of betrayal from the club (made all the more interesting by Bonucci’s former departure to Milan and then return to Juventus)?

The hot takes are flying like geese in September, but I think the truth might be more complicated.

On loyalty

Before Pat Tillman made headlines by joining the U.S. Army rather than continue his career in the NFL, a choice that left most people — including his closest friends and family — scratching their heads, the former Army Ranger and Arizona State standout dumbfounded those around him in a different way: after playing a couple seasons on the Arizona Cardinals for the league minimum, Tillman turned down a contract worth nearly $9 million from the St. Louis Rams, $2 million of which was guaranteed.

His reasoning? The Cardinals had drafted him, and he was happy in Phoenix. Tillman and his wife Marie had bought a little house with a two-car garage a short distance away from the practice facilities; they had a couple cats; they were happy. Instead of going to the Rams, he stayed with the Cardinals — once again for the league minimum.

This is what I’m decidedly not saying: that everyone should do what Pat Tillman did. I’m not saying he was “right,” not saying that he was “wrong,” not saying he’s the paragon for all decision-making regarding players and the way they can or should interact with the clubs that are employing them.

This is what I am saying: Pat did things throughout his whole life the way that only Pat did them. He was his own compass. Pat did what was right for him, for his family. That’s the lesson here: Pat’s decision aligned to his principles which happened to be extraordinarily different from most people, and he stuck to those principles in every facet of his life.

The idea that there’s some blanket moral code that covers all the situations of a player’s relationship to a club, and a club’s relationship to a player, seems too neat to me. Every player is different; every club is different; every climate is different. With the Bonucci situation, for example, I might normally be inclined to say that the club ought to treat him better — but right now this is a ship caught in a fairly severe storm, and the captain needs to make difficult decisions. Just as a player might need to do what’s best for him and his family, I think clubs can find themselves in various situations that demand different decisions and approaches. At a different time, the right answer in the situation might be different.

For Cuadrado, the ability to keep his family in Italy, just a couple hours away in Milan, was probably the driving force to Inter. He’s going to a club that just reached the Champions League final and will be playing Champions League football again next year. This seems like the right move for him, despite how incredibly not fun it is for Juventus fans. He doesn’t have to uproot and go to Saudi Arabia or Spain or Turkey or who knows where else.

There are always going to be the ends of the spectrum on an issue like this. One side might bemoan the character of today’s youth and claim that loyalty is a trait of a bygone era, absent from the age of social media narcissism; the other side might say that players are finally pushing back on clubs, that really there is nothing but the money, and that players owe the club nothing outside of what their contract stipulates.

Every situation is unique, and should be judged according to the particular components of its contexts. This is the kind of approach that nobody really likes to hear: it’s not a hot take, and it’s not a clear-cut rule that can be applied to everyone in every situation. Like a lot of human things, the theory is stupidly, annoyingly, unhelpfully abstract until we start looking at a particular situation, a particular player, and a particular club all in a particular context.