June 14 – Italy veteran Leonardo Bonucci has called playing for his national team “like oxygen”.
He also questioned whether he was still “a great player” following a troubled domestic season at Juventus.
The Turin club endured a dramatic season with an early Champions League exit, points deduction, and a boardroom exodus, and the 36-year-old defender did not fare much better featuring in just nine Serie A matches, but he believes the national team can provide him with a safe haven from the problems at Juventus.
“It’s been a very tough season for me,” said Bonucci at a news conference. “I started the campaign in the team but then changes to the selection and injuries meant that I didn’t feature as much in the second portion of the campaign.”
“I want to thank the head coach for calling me up for this game even though I only played against Udinese among Juventus’ most recent fixtures. It is really a breath of fresh air to be here because you’ve got a great group of lads. Playing for the national team is always like oxygen for me. I love to play with this shirt and I love this group.”
He became the sixth player in Juventus’s history to reach 500 appearances legends Alessandro Del Piero, Gaetano Scirea, Giorgio Chiellini, Guisseppe Furino, and Gianluigi Buffon, but he will retire at the end of his contract in 2024. “The entire delegation does convey positive vibes,” explained Bonucci. “I still got a year on my contract but my aim is to saviour the next two matches. It’s crucial to also give myself an answer as to who I am at this moment in time as a player and as to whether I’m still a big player for everyone.”
Bonucci however had plenty of praise for Spain, the opponents in Thursday’s semi-final of the Nations League Final. “Playing against Spain is always beautiful,” added the Italian. “Their approach is always very good with continuous ball possession which makes you run a lot. In recent years, however, we managed to earn good results with a similar style and tomorrow we want to win and reach the final.”
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