Cast your mind back seven months, its March the 10th and Chelsea are trailing to Wolverhampton Wanderers at home.
The Stamford Bridge crowd is groaning and rapidly growing tired as they witness the Blues struggle to break down a well set-up opposition. In an attempt to switch things up, the much maligned Maurizio Sarri makes his last substitution, the final throw of the dice.
The Fourth Official presents his board, which reads the number five. The majority of subs are greeted with, at worst, a supplementary applause in appreciation for the player departing. This time though, that show of respect wasn’t afforded. This time a vocal section, mostly from the rows of the Matthew Harding Lower sarcastically cheer as Jorginho leaves the field.
I gaze on from my East Upper seat in disbelief. I sit down, throw my hands up in frustration not too dissimilarly to the way Jose Mourinho once did whenever something went awry against his Chelsea side. I shake my head in frustration for about five minutes following.
Jump forward to last Saturday, this time Jorginho’s name is being sung by the Harding Lower after he netted the opener from the spot with his now trademark hop-and-a-skip penalty routine to leave Brighton goalkeeper Matt Ryan planted in the centre of goal.
The goal would help Chelsea go onto claim their first home Premier League victory under Frank Lampard, with the Brazilian-born playmaker putting in a man of the match display.
This was a far-cry from the hostility Jorginho faced in March when it felt like a section of the Chelsea crowd had turned on him.
“I think Jorginho got a very rough ride last season at the hands of some of our fans who unfairly singled him out for criticism..” Andy Saunders, co-host of The Chels Podcast tells The Echo.
“Now that he’s been given a bit more freedom to express himself under Lampard, we’re all starting to see what a class act he is and the majority of those fans who gave him hell last season are now singing his name which is great to see.”
So how did we get here?
Arriving for hefty price tag under the noses of Champions Manchester City, the 27-year-old arrived alongside Sarri, hoping to recreate the beautiful “Sarrismo” that dazzled Naples and many admiring eyes across the footballing world.
It all started so well for the nicknamed “Regista” who looked to slip right into Premier League football without much of a fuss. Being the focal point and engine room to Chelsea’s play, the Blues would go unbeaten, keeping pace with Manchester City and Liverpool up to mid-November, where things changed radically within ninety minutes.
Chelsea were demolished under the Wembley lights as fierce rivals Tottenham Hotspur wiped the floor with a lethargic and shell-shocked opponent that couldn’t match their intensity. That night exposed all the flaws of Chelsea that had been suspected by the most pessimistic of fans during the unbeaten streak.
Prime suspect in the flaws was Jorginho who was shut down completely by Dele Alli stopping Chelsea’s flow and rhythm which was so vital within Sarri’s possession based system which relied on Jorginho’s direction from the centre of the park.
Social media was ablaze with reaction to the defeat and quickly the direction of the furore was aimed at Jorginho. Cries of a “limited player” were heard and sadly for the midfielder, the criticism didn’t stop there.
After subsequent defeats to Leicester and Arsenal, high-profile pundits took it upon themselves to lay into the midfielder. Rio Ferdinand was one, in the air-conditioned BT Sport studio after the second defeat to a North London rival.
“Can’t run, no assists, can’t defend”.Rio Ferdinand
The former Manchester United defender’s words were pointed and jarring but ultimately – effective.
It would not be long before that sentiment was echoed among doubtful fans and the growing disillusion was related to the held belief that N’Golo Kante was being played out of position to accommodate Sarri’s trusted lieutenant.
Graeme Souness would pen an article in March labelling both Jorginho and teammate Mateo Kovacic “pointless” on the morning of Chelsea’s short trip to Craven Cottage. That afternoon, Jorginho would net the winner.
Despite this goal and subsequent positive displays, it appeared many had made their minds up on the player and perception over reality had overtaken positive early signs. Not long before that encounter, a section of the crowd booed the midfielder when he came on for the last 15 minutes to see out Chelsea’s Europa League second leg victory over Malmo.
The cries of “He does nothing” would be regularly thrown in the faces of those who defended his inclusion.
Luckily for Chelsea and Jorginho, both would pick up form towards the end of the campaign as the Blues secured Champions League qualification and dismantled Arsenal in Baku to claim European silverware, a game Jorginho would star in.
For all of people’s criticism and dismissal towards the Italian’s impact, stats bared out by the conclusion of his first season that the former Napoli midfielder had been influential for his side, despite not recording an assist.
Analysis compiled by Opta found that out of the “stat leaders” of the top six sides during the 2018/19 season Jorginho would find himself top in “Most possession won” with 274 interceptions, and top in “Most passes into the final third” with 416. He would only be eclipsed in blue by the magic of one Eden Hazard, who unsurprisingly dominated the list with his influence.
In a lot of ways Jorginho’s playing style and position is a mostly foreign concept to English football fans. The deepest lying midfielder has widely been regarded as a hard working, no-nonsense and reserved figure who gets dirty in the ugly side of the game, whilst the magicians further up the field take the plaudits.
Growing up on a diet of Claude Makélélé and John Obi Mikel naturally leaves you quite accustomed to believing a DM’s primary job is to break up play, rather than contribute to it.
Despite the stats and fan-created compilations compiled in his defence, it was believed once Sarri left for Turin, the midfielder would soon follow – but this didn’t happen. Jorginho stayed put and made it his personal mission to prove his harshest critics wrong.
With Lampard’s arrival and an expected change of play, how would a specialist like Jorginho fit into the club Legend’s plans?
The answer resoundingly suggested pretty comfortably. Over pre-season the midfielder would be an integral part to Lampard’s preparations, picking up where he left off in Baku. Controlling the midfield, marshalling his teammates and passing with ease.
It did appear early on that the more-rigid, strict positional play of Sarri had been loosened to allow the No.5 to venture further up the field and press higher that he did under the former head coach. Most notably dispossessing a sleepy Sergio Busquets to play in Tammy Abraham to round Marc-André ter Stegen for the Blues opener in a pre-season win over Barcelona in Japan.
Now under a much-more favoured manager, fans found it much easier to focus solely on Jorginho’s individual performances, rather than connecting it to negative thoughts over a divisive figure in the dugout.
Speaking to The Echo, Mark Worrall, author, publisher and contributor to the CFCUK Fanzine spoke about the positive turn in opinion since Lampard’s return to the club:
“Any doubts some Chelsea supporters may have harboured about Jorginho being a one-trick pony only capable of playing within the rigid confines of Sarri’s system have been blown away this season as Lampard has embraced a more flexible tactical approach to games which has allowed the Brazil-born Italy International to showcase the considerable range of skills in his midfield locker”Mark Worrall
The tired talking point over Kante’s positioning took a back seat when Lampard opted to play a similar 4-3-3 to his predecessor with Jorginho sitting at the base of it against Liverpool in the Super Cup. Chelsea and in particular, their midfield played well and nothing was made of it after when it became to go-to talking point last season.
As Chelsea’s youthful setup has taken to the fore, the midfielder’s seniority and leadership skills have shone through on and off the pitch.
An article by Liam Twomey of The Athletic went in-depth on Jorghino’s personality and personal struggle to reach the heights he now plays at.
From a small coastal town in the South of Brazil, to a worn-down monastery in Italy when his agent sold him a false dream, Jorghino’s fight can’t be questioned. It is these early hardships that have made him a natural leader either on the turf of Stamford Bridge or training pitches at Cobham. On the way into a team meeting he reportedly told off Fikayo Tomori for wearing flip-flops as the defender ran the risk of incurring a fine from the club, the 21-year-old quickly took his peers advice and changed footwear promptly.
Despite his sudden departure, Sarri’s key involvement in Chelsea being able to lure Jorginho from the prying eyes of Pep Guardiola was essential in evolving and modernising Chelsea’s game. Even with Lampard looking to implement a higher pressing, more energetic style of play, Chelsea’s time under Sarri has made the Blues comfortable playing out from the back and Jorginho is vital in that transformation.
His stats add weight to the impressive start to the campaign, in comparison to other “Defensive midfielders” Fabinho and Rodri, he eclipses both of them in interceptions, ball recoveries, big chances created and accurate final 3rd passes.
Stats can be used in a variety of ways to make an argument, but those that watch on with the naked eye will concur that when Jorginho plays well, Chelsea play well. He glides across the pitch with ease, but improvement in his physicality and industrious nature have made him a formidable presence in the centre.
Now that he has a song and support, many have already touted the idea of the Italian wearing the Captain’s armband not before long.
With César Azpilicueta’s position in question with the emergence of Reece James, Dave might find himself in a similar predicament to Gary Cahill last season, watching on from the sidelines despite being the named club captain. With a group made up of younger, inexperienced talent finding their feet, seniority and guidance is key and Jorginho looks the perfect figure to take that mantle on as he is vocally one of the loudest players on the pitch, barking orders in every direction.
Many will tell you don’t need an armband to be a leader and his manager has already expressed as much praising the Italy international after his performance against Brighton.
“He’s a leader in his personality. Whatever happened last year, I wasn’t here. For whatever reason, people will make judgements, but all I can judge is what I see in front of me and from pre-season he has been one of the leaders, clearly, in the dressing room and on the pitch. He wants to win, and I know that should be the basics and it is the basics for everyone, but to show it in everything you do is important. He does that, so I’m pleased with Jorgie and the young players need to look up to that attitude he has daily.”Frank Lampard
Whether he is handed the armband or not, the nicknamed “Jorgie” has already shown he is a player capable of setting the right example on and off the pitch.
Most importantly he has defied critics, doubters and even his own fanbase to show he is much-more than just a connoisseur of the short pass and shun the scapegoat tag which would have weighed down many before him.
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