“How many assists has he got this season? Around 2,000 passes, no assists! 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, so he does not give you anything defensively and he doesn’t give you anything at the other end of the pitch”.
Those were the words of six-time Premier League champion Rio Ferdinand following Chelsea’s defeat at Arsenal last weekend, when asked for his opinion on Italy international Jorginho.
A sentiment that was then echoed across British media outlets, generating intense discussions between fans on social media about the player himself. An unfamiliarity of ‘Sarriball’ and the misconception around the role N’Golo Kante used to play does not help this freshly-created agenda against Jorginho.
But should we really be surprised by these hollow comments? After all, it took a majestic display from ‘Il Maestro’ Andrea Pirlo against England in the 2012 European Championships for his class to be appreciated on these shores, when he had been producing those displays on the continent for years. It was only in retirement that Premier League fans and pundits flocked to share their admiration for the effortless Michael Carrick, while their lack of acknowledgment for Paul Scholes during his playing days has been well documented. It was a similar story for the legendary Xavi or Barcelona’s current pass-master Sergio Busquets.
The midfield controller, deep-lying playmaker or now famous ‘regista’ role is a position that has been horribly undervalued in the English game over the years and still to this day is somewhat misunderstood, and in that lies the problem. The sublime Juan Sebastian Veron was perhaps one of the earliest to fall foul of this football culture clash. There have been a number of others over the years with varying levels of success. From the likes of Xabi Alonso to Alberto Aquilani and current stars Fernandinho and Granit Xhaka.
In many quarters, a particular stereotype remains in the game here. If you are not an all-action player, bombing around the pitch, crashing into tackles and chipping in with goals, then what are you doing? Jorginho hardly excels in any of those areas. So what exactly does the former Napoli man bring? And why was he pursued by Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola before joining Maurizio Sarri at Chelsea?
Jorginho is the architect of ‘Sarriball’, he is fundamental to the plan. Implemented correctly, Sarri’s football is devastating. It is fluid, incisive and decisive with lots of quick vertical passes to progress the ball through the pitch sharply. Positioning is key and at times it does require long spells of possession and this is where Jorginho is essential in recognising how and when to change the attack. However, this product is not available in a few short months.
There are limitations in the current Chelsea XI with the technical level of the team below that of Sarri’s Napoli. The Blues line-up is less complete in that sense and this places further pressure on Jorginho, especially as he understands the system. There is a marked difference in the number of key passes Jorginho is hitting this campaign, 0.6 per game, in comparison to 1.5 last season. This would suggest the Chelsea squad are still adapting to Sarri’s disciplined system and it is affecting Jorginho’s results.
“If he’s the player with more touches, you have to make him the player with less touches,” said Jose Mourinho in reference to Jorginho recently. It is no coincidence that since Jorginho has experienced a slump, Chelsea’s performances have too. The opposition have quickly recognised that if you limit Jorginho, you limit his side because those that directly surround him, at this moment, cannot carry the load.
It has been suggested that Jorginho simply passes sideways and is ineffective. If that is the case, then why is he hounded on a weekly basis by opponents? If not man marked, he is quickly pressed or boxed off by those up against him. Not bad for someone that is supposedly not good enough to play in the Premier League.
There’s vast responsibility placed on his shoulders in a pivotal area of the pitch and it’s a position that requires a particular skill-set. Precision passing, awareness, intelligence, dictating the speed of play and organising those around the ball are all vital components of a top regista with assists, goals and defensive contributions a mere bonus.
It’s no coincidence that all of Europe’s elite clubs possess a regista, it requires a specialist. Real Madrid have Toni Kroos, PSG have Marco Verratti, Juventus have Miralem Pjanic and Liverpool recognised the need for a player in a similar mould when purchasing Fabinho last summer. All share similar traits, but play as a pivot in slightly different ways.
Jorginho has swiftly established himself in the Azzurri set-up, playing an instrumental part in Roberto Mancini’s new progressive Italy. Forging an aesthetically pleasing midfield alongside Verratti and rising star Nicolò Barella.
Constantly demanding possession and being in control of the game is a duty that should never be diminished, especially by those that have experienced the intensity of professional football. “Jorginho Is marvellous” as described by the man that sculpted modern football, Pep Guardiola, so who are we to argue with that?