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The misunderstood midfield maestro

The misunderstood midfield maestro


Some pundits don’t see the point in Chelsea’s Jorginho. He won’t care, he’s the top contender for this year’s Ballon d’Or


Hi, I’m Chloe and this is the Playmaker.

One story every day to make sense of the world of football. 

Today, why Jorginho is a controversial candidate for this year’s Ballon d’Or.


The Ballon d’Or is an award run by France Football magazine. Since 1956, it’s recognised the best male footballer on the planet. That’s the theory, anyway.

And after winning the Champions League, the Euros and the Fifa men’s player of the year, you’d think that Chelsea’s Jorginho would be a dead cert to win it this December. 

Admittedly, he doesn’t play in Spain and he’s not called Cristiano or Lionel, so it won’t be plain sailing. One of those two have picked up the trophy every year bar one since 2008. 

It’s also difficult for a midfielder to win what’s considered the most valuable individual prize in football. Only Luka Modric has managed to do that since 2000.

And players for English clubs don’t often get a look-in. Cristiano Ronaldo won it while he was playing for Manchester United in 2008. Before that, the last person to play in England and win was Michael Owen for Liverpool in 2001.  

So, as you can see, it’s going to be tough.

But given Jorginho’s accomplishments over the past 12 months, the fact that this is even a debate shows just how misunderstood he is. 

He wrote an article for the Players’ Tribune in which he says that he’s been written off at every stage of his career.

That didn’t stop him being “angry” at how he was disliked by Chelsea supporters when he first arrived at the club as well as being written off as “slow” or lazy.”

“How many assists has he got this season? Around 2,000 passes, no assists. Like it’s not like he can, he’s not a great defender, once a game gets like this against the big teams he gets overrun in midfield, he can’t run, he doesn’t give you anything defensively and he doesn’t give you anything up the other end of the pitch.”

Rio Ferdinand, BT Sport

That was Rio Ferdinand talking about Jorginho while Maurizio Sarri was in charge at Chelsea. But Sarri knew what he was doing. He brought Jorginho with him from Napoli because he was such a crucial cog in his well-oiled machine.

Sarri achieved a club record points total in Serie A during each of the three seasons he was at Napoli, and ended on 91 points in his last before moving to Chelsea. Since he left, things have gone downhill. Last season Napoli finished with 77 points and the year before they only got 62.

“I’m not a fan of Jorginho. I’ve seen him play for Napoli. Napoli were a good side and I looked at their team and when I’m picking out players, Jorginho would’ve been the eighth or ninth player I would’ve picked out of their team as the most important player. I can’t see what Sarri sees in him quite as much…”

Stewart Robson, ESPN FC

So why does Jorginho get overlooked? In some ways, it’s understandable. You could easily watch Chelsea on Match of the Day and not even see him. 

He’s what the Italians call a regista. You’re not supposed to see him. 

The word means “conductor” in Italian, like in an orchestra. So a regista directs the play, he’s the driving force and dictates the tempo of the attack.

Andrea Pirlo is the most famous example of a regista. He’s not a holding midfielder, he doesn’t help the defence out and he doesn’t run box-to-box. 

In his autobiography, Pirlo explains that his job is to find a space where he can move freely. Then, he says, he “takes the ball, gives it to a team-mate, team-mate scores.” 

Simple really, but it’s not something that’s really common in English football. 

In fact, when asked recently about Leeds midfielder Kalvin Phillips being given the nickname “The Yorkshire Pirlo”, the Italian said in England “you’ve always had box-to-box midfielders, like Frank Lampard.”

It makes sense then, that during his reign as Chelsea boss, Frank Lampard didn’t work well with Jorginho. And Jorginho recently told the press he didn’t think Lampard had enough experience for the job.

“But the fact it’s coming from one of the players, one who I don’t think was particularly great under Frank, and I don’t think Frank particularly rated him, I just don’t like it. Because players have got no idea what coaching is all about. It’s absolutely opposite and nothing to do with what you do as a player and so I just hate it that players come out and say things like that.” 

Steve Nicol, ESPN FC

Lampard wasn’t the only one though. Even Antonio Conte ignored the talents of Jorginho when he was in charge of the Italian national team. 

Under Frank Lampard, Jorginho could’ve given up on playing in England. Italian sides would’ve been falling over themselves to sign him. 

Yet just as he must’ve been reaching the end of his tether, in came Thomas Tuchel. He had the longest unbeaten start of any Chelsea manager, going 13 matches before he lost.

He’s made Jorginho one of his most important players, playing him 29 times in 34 games. Tuchel wants to win the ball back higher up the pitch and he uses Jorginho to move the ball quickly.

He says Jorginho organises the environment around him, which then allows him to show his true abilities and control the rhythm of a game. 

It sounds very much like Tuchel sees Jorginho as a conductor of the play, a regista.

Tuchel says Jorginho allows others to shine and he’s always thinking one or two passes ahead. For a coach like him, intelligence in the centre of the park is essential.

“What I would say straight away is… Jorginho has been excellent this season. Now, teams are having to change their system, maybe their style at times, to counteract Jorginho. So that shows how good a player he is and how well, how important he is to Chelsea.” 

Jamie Carragher, Sky Sports

Even though Jorginho has won major European trophies for both club and country, and has been unconditionally praised by Tuchel, there will still be those who just don’t get the way that he plays.

Even if he does win the Ballon d’Or at the end of the year.

And that’s OK. Football is a game of opinions.

Today’s episode was written by Chloe Beresford, and produced by Imy Harper.