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Giorgio Chiellini has graced the black-and-white shirt of Juventus for 16 years — but he oh-so-nearly became a Black Cat instead.
The famous stopper has carved out a superb career for club and country, but he came within a whisker of swapping Turin for Wearside after ex-Sunderland boss Roy Keane and his staff almost staged a remarkable coup.
Chiellini was coming towards the end of his contract following Keane securing promotion and the Irishman was looking for a defensive kingpin.
Fate intervened – and handed Keane a chance to snare a man who would become one of the Bianconeri’s all-time greats.
Giorgio Chiellini is considered a Juventus and Italy legend
(Image: 2019 Daniele Badolato – Juventus FC)
Mick Brown was the Wearsiders’ chief scout – and the former No. 2 to Ron Atkinson and Sir Alex Ferguson almost pulled off the unthinkable.
He said: “It was a day like many others when I took a call from an agent who said, ‘Would you be interested in Chiellini?’.
“I replied, ‘Does a child like Christmas? Absolutely, we would, yes. But there’s no chance he’ll come here’.
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“He said, ‘Leave it with me’, so I did. A couple of days later, he called me back and said, ‘Chiellini is up for it’.
“So, I went and saw Roy Keane and left it with them. Subsequently, I asked the boss what was going on and he said, ‘It’s all but done’. You could have knocked me down with a feather.
“A fee was agreed with Juventus – £8million – and Chiellini’s terms had been as well. We were all set to go.
“I thought, ‘If we get this over the line, we have swum the Channel’.
Roy Keane amazingly almost signed Chiellini for Sunderland
(Image: Getty Images)
“But somewhere in the negotiations in the hierarchy – it was nothing to do with Roy or me, Roy wanted Chiellini to come – it fell down over £200,000. Who wanted it or what it was for, I don’t know.
“It was a real shame because I’d put my life on this kid turning out to be a cracker.
“Can you imagine what he would have been like? He would have been another Charlie Hurley for Sunderland.”
Brown had seen Chiellini for himself, but was given a further recommendation by Ian Atkins who was working as the Black Cats’ chief European scout. They turned out to be excellent judges.
“When I saw him, he had a ‘Thou shalt not pass’ attitude,” added Brown. “So, you go through the tick boxes. Can he head it? Yes. Can he tackle? Yes. Does he read it well? Yes.
“It was almost a personal religion for him that no one should go past him. Ever. It was almost a personal insult if someone had a shot at the goal.
“But I like my defenders to be exactly that – defenders. It’s almost a dirty word these days.”
Brown eventually left Sunderland, but there are tales of others who got away – Ivan Rakitic who eventually joined Barcelona and Mario Mandzukic were two on the hit-list, too.
Chiellini will take on England with Italy in Sunday's Euro 2020 final
(Image: Getty Images)
He added: “It’s sad the way it’s gone at the Stadium of Light.
“Sir Alex Ferguson used to say to me, ‘People always bandy about the fact that such-and-such is a big club – but I’m telling you Sunderland is one of them’.
“Unfortunately, some of the direction has left a lot to be desired and they have paid the price for it.
“It’s such a shame. Sir Alex was right. It’s a wonderful club with a loyal set of supporters, who deserve a lot more.”