Unlucky Leonardo Bonucci knew full well when he was substituted in the 81st minute that he hadn’t had his best day in football on his Bundesliga debut for 1. FC Union Berlin.

With his head bowed and to cautious applause, the 2021 European champion left the pitch in the An der alten Försterei stadium – knowing that he played a significant role in the 2-0 defeat against TSG 1899 Hoffenheim.

The long-time Italian international player knocked down Hoffenheim’s striker Andrej Kramaric (21st minute) with a pounce and awarded a penalty. The veteran also came a step too late when Maximilian Beier conceded the second goal (38th). It didn’t matter to the experienced defensive legend that Bonucci, aged 36 years and 145 days, was the older outfield player to make his Bundesliga debut in 21 years, according to data provider Opta. Without a word, he stalked back into the dressing room after the final whistle.

“We just weren’t there”

“The first half doesn’t work like that. We just weren’t there,” said Union coach Urs Fischer and added: “That also applies to Leo.”

With the transfer of Bonucci, Union had made a statement. The change was intended to show that, after the great successes of the past few years, the Berliners are now also looking to sign players in a higher class. Bonucci has a lot of Champions League experience, even more than Robin Gosens and Kevin Volland.

But instead of acting even more firmly with Bonucci, the Köpenickers are slowly but surely stumbling towards the lower places in the table. The last time we lost four competitive games in a row – including the 0-1 defeat in the Champions League premiere at Real Madrid – was in spring 2020. “When you talk about development, you sometimes have to take two steps back in order to move forward again to be able to go,” Fischer used a football phrase.

But two steps back are not enough to describe Union’s performance at the beginning. “That was a non-performance,” complained the Swiss fisherman and reported on his speech in the cabin during the break: “I was loud. I think the words got through.”

“He knows what he has to do”

To blame the defeat solely on Bonucci would be wrong anyway. After the restart, the football oldie was the desired source of calm in the Berlin defense, he directed the game from behind and initiated the attacks with impressive passes. “In the second half you saw what he was capable of,” said Fischer.

For the second game in a row, Bonucci replaced the injured defense chief Robin Knoche in central defense. “He knows what he has to do. He played a good game, like in Madrid,” praised teammate Sheraldo Becker. Instead of complaining about his Italian teammate’s penalty, Becker looked after himself: “In the end, we have to score against the striker. If we don’t score goals, it will be difficult.”