Jorginho (R) will be representing Italy at a major tournament for the first time
Credit: Claudio Villa /Getty Images Europe
Jorginho can still remember the journey to the minutest detail: the car ride from his home in the small Brazil town of Imbituba to the airport at Florianopolis; the short flight to Sao Paulo, then the long one to Verona via Frankfurt. Even the trip from Verona Villafranca airport to his new home is seared onto his brain: the trees stripped bare of their leaves, the biting cold of an Italian winter a jolt to the system of a 15-year-old raised on balmy nights on Brazil’s balmy south-east coast.
He did not know it at the time, but Jorginho was leaving his home for good. That journey took place in November 2007; 14 years later, and he is about to don the blue of the Azzurri in a major tournament for the first time – the ultimate vindication of his decision to leave his family and childhood friends behind him.
If it all seems a gilded path to the top – a stellar career in Serie A, a move to Chelsea which has yielded a Champions League winner’s medal, and now the chance to add another title to Italy’s glittering CV – then Jorginho would like you to think again. This has not been a quick, or painless, process: indeed, there had already been one aborted attempt to make the journey to Italy, the home country of his great great-grandfather, only for his passage to be denied at Sao Paulo because of a mistake in his paperwork.
Jorginho has just one the biggest trophy of his career in the Champions League with Che;sea
Credit: Alexander Hassenstein – Uefa /Uefa
“I had to fly home and wait a bit more while we took care of my documentation. I was very young, so imagine my head back then. I couldn’t stop crying when I called my parents. It was so difficult,” he recalls.
Even when he did arrive in Europe, things were not easy, with his progress stunted at Hellas Verona, the club that had given him his chance. “I wasn’t playing much at Hellas in 2010 and ended up going on loan to Sambonifacese [in the Italian fourth tier],” he tells The Telegraph. “I had a great time there, but then, when I returned to Verona, they had been promoted to second division and [Andrea] Mandorlini, the coach, didn’t want me back. It was the sporting director [Mauro] Gibellini who insisted for him to give me a chance and if I had not convinced them after six months, I would leave again.
“Mandorlini played me in all positions during pre-season: right-back, centre-back, everywhere. I was hoping to get some minutes, but then the season started and I didn’t even make the bench. I was left in the stands every game. I thought to myself, ‘This coach is joking with me.’ And so, out of nowhere, he started me in a position I had never trained, as a No.10, against Torino. We lost at home 3-1 and I received all kinds of criticism. People were saying ‘He’s too skinny’ and ‘He’s not ready.’
“I didn’t play again for a month, so I called my agent Joao [Santos] and told him, ‘I’m leaving in January!’ I had also received a call from the coach I worked with at Sambonifacese, Claudio Valigi. He had signed for Mantova in the fourth division and told me: ‘Jorge, I know you’re in Serie B with Verona, but if you want to play, we need you here.’ I answered him that I would think about it, but as soon as I hung up, I actually called Joao, ‘Listen, I’m going to Mantova.’ He asked me to calm down.
“And then, two or three weeks later, in a match versus Bari, one of our players got injured in the first half and Mandorlini looked at me on the bench and seemed desperate, ‘My God, what do I do?’ In the end, he put me in and we won 1-0 away. The following week, I started against Empoli and scored a goal and gave an assist. I was man of the match. Everything changed after that. It was the turning point for me.”
Ultimately, if it had not been for that Bari game, Jorginho could have moved to Mantova and seen his career taking a very different direction. He stayed at Verona and then, in the following season, secured promotion. His impact was such in the top flight that, six months later, he was packing his bags after Napoli came calling; then, after a stellar four years in Italy’s deep south, his journey took him to England, joining his Napoli manager Maurizio Sarri in moving to Chelsea for £57million.
This, too, has not been an easy experience. Jorginho found himself scapegoated when Sarri’s tenure began in stodgy fashion, the manager’s insistence on a slow, rotational possession game irritating supporters whose happiest times were provided by the all-action tactics of Jose Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti and Antonio Conte.
Jorginho became a fan favourite in four years at Napoli and moved with manager Maurizio Sarri to Chelsea in the summer of 2018
Credit: Marco Canoniero /Getty Images Contributor
Jorginho was considered Sarri’s on-field consigliere – he was even known as his ‘son’ in the dressing room – and, to outsiders at least, there were moments when it seemed his time in west London would be ill-fated.
Not that the man himself ever felt that way.
“I worked with Sarri at Chelsea and Napoli and have great affection for him,” he says. “I don’t need to bury this story. It’s who created it that has to do it. The focus of my daily work is not on this. I will always give my best to the club I play for to keep improving my game – anything other than that is only a distraction from what is most important.
“In the end, you need to trust yourself and have it clear where you aim to get to. Have I had bad days? Of course. We all have. I have never doubted myself, though, because I knew how hard I worked. Obviously, I’m being praised for my performances and the Champions League title. But I run around 12 kilometers per game and haven’t started doing that now. I give 100 per cent effort every day.”
It’s something that certainly did not go unnoticed for Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel, who was brought in to replace Frank Lampard in January and has since made Jorginho untouchable, with the 29-year-old playing a key role in the Champions League final win over Manchester City.
The positive impression is reciprocated. “You could tell it in the first days of training. He arrived at the club and already had a deep knowledge of all athletes and where they preferred to play. He instantly clicked with the group, bringing an energy that uplifts everybody. It was this organization that led us to the Champions League glory,” he explains.
How Italy play under Roberto Mancini
Jorginho now hopes to translate his club form to the national team as they kick off their Euro campaign with the opening game of the tournament against Turkey in Rome.
Alongside PSG’s Marco Veratti and Inter Milan’s Nicolo Barella, he forms a trio that is considered the most technically gifted in the tournament and will be key to restoring the country’s reputation after failing to reach the World Cup for the first time in 60 years in 2018.
Jorginho has high hopes – not least because of the presence of Roberto Mancini in the dug-out. “He is the complete coach – man-management, tactical and technical knowledge, reading of situations, just everything.”
One thing is certain, though: if Mancini is being similarly hailed in Italy in a month’s time, Jorginho will have been integral – and that long, harrowing journey 14 years ago will unquestionably have been worth the effort.