By Kris Voakes | Italian Football Editor
After a season so disappointing that stagnation would have been a welcome alternative, Inter knew that one of their veteran centre-backs had to go. But their decision to release Lucio two years before his contract was due to end, allowing the Brazilian to sign for Juventus on a free transfer, has caught many observers by surprise.
By no means did the 34-year-old have the best season of his career in 2011-12, but when weighing up the value of he and Walter Samuel for the next couple of years, it had appeared the Argentine was the most expendable of the regular pairing. Having suffered two devastating knee injuries in the last five years, history would suggest that ‘Il Muro’ may find the going tough on the old, patched-up body as the next couple of campaigns develop.
However, it was Lucio that the Nerazzurri decide to cut free, disposing with the remaining 24 months of his deal. And Inter’s loss is Juventus’ gain. If he can add half of what he’s demonstrated for the Biscone in the past few years, then they've made an extremely wise move.
In 2009-10, he was immense. While purchases such as Diego Milito, Samuel Eto’o and Wesley Sneijder played a big part in Jose Mourinho’s side winning the treble, Lucio’s arrival from Bayern Munich that same summer was equally as vital. His impact was most clearly felt in the Champions League knockout stage, as performances against Chelsea, CSKA Moscow, Barcelona and his old team-mates at Bayern helped Inter to become known – even despised in some circles – for their solid defensive base.
|LUCIO'S 2011-12 STATS
|11th in A
8th in A
1st in A
The following campaign was a real test for Inter, but Lucio himself stood tall. Despite the loss of Samuel to knee ligament damage and countless other changes of partner due to an unprecedented run of injuries, the 2002 World Cup winner helped them to a creditable second-placed finish in Serie A to add to Coppa Italia, Supercoppa Italiana and World Club Cup successes.
And while last term saw him drop short of his usual high standards, showing much more fallibility to pace in particular, he still finished eighth in Italy for tackles won and made 16 more interceptions than any other player in the league. There are many defenders who would love such stats in a career year, let alone a bad one.
As the latest addition to Juventus’ free transfer bandwagon, he may have to admit that 50-game seasons are not his bag anymore, but he could be a key man in their bid to challenge in Europe once again. Two and a half years on from their last Champions League fixture, the Bianconeri are preparing for their return to the elite competition knowing many of their first team squad could find the step up to be a shock to the system.
Andrea Barzagli and Leonardo Bonucci have a combined total of two Champions League appearances between them, while Juve’s most experienced defender in the competition from last season’s squad is Giorgio Chiellini, with 18 games. Lucio has graced the event 83 times, making the final in his first tilt with Bayer Leverkusen, as well as that debut season win with Inter eight years later.
Some Juve fans have shown discomfort with the idea of a 34-year-old potentially forcing out the more youthful Bonucci, but the Brazilian could well improve his new team-mate. Lucio has an infinitely better awareness of the game, as his interception stats proved last term. Similarly, he is more fearless and ruthless up against either slick and skilful opponents, or rigid and systemic approaches. And, if he can help to modify the former Bari man’s game for the better, then Juve could still be feeling the Lucio effect long after his two-year contract is up.
Great though Juve’s defensive stats were last season, much of that was down to the lack of work necessary behind a midfield and attack dominating possession. Sure, they did superbly as a defensive unit, but they cannot realistically expect the same flow against the very best European football has to offer.
Any Juventini who are worried about taking on a ‘reject’ of one of Italy’s other big three clubs would do well to remember who they picked up from AC Milan a year ago and what he has done in the intervening period.
Lucio may well not have the same impact Andrea Pirlo has enjoyed, but he’s definitely a huge addition to a squad already huge favourites to win another Scudetto. With him around, they can realistically hope for great things in Europe too.Follow Kris Voakes on