Leonardo Bonucci has emerged as a vital component of the Italy defence in the three short years since he made his debut, eking out a place at the back alongside Juventus team-mates Giorgio Chiellini and Andrea Barzagli with barely any fanfare.
Born near to Rome, the centre-back joined Inter Milan at the age of 18 and was handed his maiden Serie A appearance in a 2-2 draw with Cagliari on 14 May 2006. Competition for places meant his playing time with I Nerazzurri was limited, however, and he was loaned out to Treviso and later Pisa before being sold to Genoa, who then agreed a co-ownership deal with Bari. Bonucci finally began turning heads while at the latter club in 2009/10, and he was snapped up by Juve at the end of the season.
On the international stage, he was first capped by Marcello Lippi against Cameroon on 3 March 2010, despite having never represented his country at any other age group. Then 22, he started the match next to Fabio Cannavaro and Chiellini, and he became a fixture in the side following Cannavaro's retirement and Italy's disappointing 2010 FIFA World Cup™ campaign – in which he did not feature once.
Now a key figure in Cesare Prandelli's more attacking Nazionale line-up, and equally valuable to the reigning Serie A champions, the converted midfielder regularly earns praise for his excellent technique, which allows him to distribute the ball with pace and precision.
Powerful and physically imposing at 1.90m tall, not to mention good in the air and clear-sighted in his passing, Bonucci has all the attributes of the ideal modern centre-back. Having just turned 26 on 1 May, he could also be set to serve La Squadra Azzurra for several years to come.