His move in July 2017 was a seismic shock to Italy’s footballing order, a bolt out of the blue that saw a mainstay of Juve’s dominance switch allegiance to one of the country’s sleeping giants. Bonucci’s emergence as one of the world’s foremost centre-backs had coincided with the Bianconeri’s return from the wilderness, with the former Inter and Bari man forging a feared defensive partnership alongside Gianluigi Buffon, Giorgio Chiellini and Andrea Barzagli as a lynchpin of six consecutive title-winning sides.
Widely regarded as a steal at €45 m despite his advancing years, Bonucci was the crowning piece of AC Milan’s ambitious restructuring. Li had spared no expense to bring in the likes of Mateo Musacchio, Andrea Conti, Hakan Çalhanoğlu, Lucas Biglia and André Silva that summer, but Bonucci was the undoubted icon of the new AC Milan – a signing that was as symbolic as it was strategic.
By January, the defender already seemed to be thinking twice about his decision to leave the stability of Turin for the chaos of the Rossoneri. With the financial future under Li shrouded in uncertainty, the club limped to a sixth-place finish, and Bonucci looked on enviously as his former teammates clinched a seventh consecutive Scudetto. Yet the centre-back’s turbulent history with Juventus was to have another twist as it was announced that Bonucci would return to the Bianconeri just 377 days after he had departed.
Paulinho (Guangzhou Evergrande to Barcelona, 2017)
In the blink of an eye, the nouveau-riche Chinese top flight became a high-profile destination for players chasing a handsome payday. Former Tottenham afterthought Paulinho was one of many to head east, penning a four-year deal with Guangzhou Evergrande in 2015.
Surprisingly, Barcelona plucked the Brazilian for €40 million in August 2017. Almost right away, the 55-time capped international became an integral part of Ernesto Valverde’s regime, bagging nine goals in 55 appearances for La Blaugrana. As quickly as he arrived, he was off, returning to Evergrande on a one-year loan with an obligation to buy, with Barcelona somehow turning a €8.5-million profit on the 30-year-old. Something smells fishy.
Fabio Borini (Sunderland to AC Milan, 2017)
In 2017, without Champions League football for several years, AC Milan sought to rebuild their squad and splashed the cash on Leonardo Bonucci, Andre Silva, Lucas Biglia, Matteo Musacchio, Ricardo Rodriguez, Hakan Calhanoglu and Frank Kessie. Their signing of Fabio Borini on loan from Sunderland, with whom he had just been relegated from the Premier League, stood out somewhat.
In one of the weirdest transfers of decade, the Italian forward had managed just 20 goals in his previous 131 games for the Wearsiders and Liverpool, including just two in the season just past, yet the £1.5million loan deal also included an obligation to buy him at the end of the year for a further £5.2million. However, credit where credit is due, Borini was deployed for the majority of the season at wing-back, where he contributed five goals and seven assists in 44 games, helping guide AC Milan to a sixth-place finish in the league and the Coppa Italia final, where they were beaten by Juventus.