Bari centre-back Leonardo Bonucci has been one of the revelations of the 2009/10 Serie A campaign, needing just a few short months to convince Italy supremo Marcello Lippi of his worth. Powerful, athletic, good in the air and boasting near clairvoyant anticipation, Bonucci is a textbook example of a modern central defender. His emergence onto the national-team scene could barely have come at a better moment for La Nazionale, with former defensive greats such as Paolo Maldini and Alessandro Nesta having bowed out of international duty and Fabio Cannavaro set to do so after the 2010 FIFA World Cup™. Born in Rome, Bonucci joined the books of Italian giants Inter Milan at 18 years of age and went on to make his top-flight debut on 14 May, 2006 in a 2-2 draw with Cagliari.
Yet given the strength of the squad at I Nerazzurri, the gifted centre-back was unable to secure the playing time required to cement a first-team berth. Instead he went out on loan to Treviso then Pisa before finally earning a permanent deal with Genoa in summer 2009 as part of the deal that took Diego Milito and Thiago Motta to the Italian champions. Immediately loaned out to Bari in a co-ownership agreement, Bonucci thrived in his new surroundings and started 33 matches this term. Called up for the first time by Lippi ahead of March’s friendly against Cameroon, Italy’s final warm-up game before the 23-man South Africa 2010 squad was revealed, Bonucci did enough in the goalless draw to win over the FIFA World Cup-winning boss. “I’m living a dream and I hope it lasts until the end of the World Cup,” said the player at the time, having previously never represented his country at any level and still unsure where he will play his club football come 2010/11.