Giorgio Chiellini’s persona on the pitch is far from squeaky clean, but off it he seemed like a thoroughly decent chap. Donating one per cent of his salary to charity, he is also one of the few footballers who value a good education, receiving a master’s degree in Business Administration back in 2017. On top of that, he played a key role in the Juventus squad taking a pay cut to help their club through the coronavirus pandemic.
So when Chiellini made the announcement that he would be releasing an autobiography, it came with the pledge to donate all proceeds to charity. Fans were naturally expecting an honest read from a player who always gave 110 per cnet on a football field and a person who prided himself on principles, offering unique insight into how he meshed a will to win at all costs with a will to make the world around him a better place.
Judging by first impressions, however, ‘Io, Giorgio’ – or ‘Me, Giorgio’ in English - has been anything but. While he promised hot takes on his ‘sporting hatred’ of Inter and scraps with various opponents, his interview with La Repubblica to promote the book was overshadowed by scathing criticism of Mario Balotelli and Felipe Melo.
“I was really let down by two players and I confirm everything I wrote in the book,” he told the newspaper. “Balotelli is a negative person, with no respect for the group. During the Confederations Cup against Brazil in 2013, he didn’t lend a helping hand for anything, he really did deserve a slap. Some people thought he was among the top five strikers in the world, but I never even considered him in the top 10 or 20.
“However, there was someone worse, Felipe Melo: really the worst of the worst. I cannot abide people who lack respect, those who always want to be contrarians. With him around, it was permanently likely to break out into a brawl. I told the directors that, too: he is a bad apple.”
To see a man of the 35-year-old’s stature resorting to cheap shots at two easy targets is hugely disappointing. He hoped that by exposing the attitudes of his two former teammates, it would reassert his reputation as the consummate professional of Calcio. Instead, it proved counter-productive. It even left some Juve supporters questioning the character of their captain.
Balotelli may have achieved far less in the game than Chiellini and is arguably more known for his off-field antics, but he would be the first to admit that he never realised his potential to be a top-five striker. He can also never be accused of not being direct in his approach, whether that be with teammates, opponents, critics – or Manchester City youth players.
“You had so many opportunities to do that since 2013, to behave like a real man, but you didn’t do it,” ‘Super Mario’ sniped back in an Instagram post. “Who knows what you’ll say one day about your current teammates, you strange captain… If this means being a champion, then I prefer not to be one.” Who knew Balotelli would emerge as the voice of reason in this row? He’s right, because as Chiellini’s career is far from over, the inevitable question will float into the minds of his teammates: will they be in the sequel?
Melo will go down as one of the Bianconeri’s worst-ever buys and, given his ability to pick a fight in an empty room, his statements should normally be taken with a pinch of salt. Yet he too was inexplicably made to sound like a more straight-forward figure than Chiellini.
“I’d like to know what incidents he was referring to. When I was in Turin, I never lacked respect for anyone: teammates, directors or Juventus in general. At this point, though, I have no respect for him. And I never will have. He says Balotelli should be slapped and I am the worst of the worst who always risked sparking a brawl? Well, he was always a coward who’d wet himself…
“Besides, it’s too easy to be nasty about someone in a book. Perhaps ‘this defender’ is still angry with me, because when I went to Galatasaray, we gave his Juve some ‘slaps’ and knocked them out of the Champions League. This is what Chiellini is like, he always acts as if he’s the greatest.”
Chiellini’s autobiography will be released on Tuesday and we may end up struggling to put it down if he chooses to focus on himself and not dig up any more dirt. Yet for a player so many regard as the backbone of Juventus and Italy to come across so spinelessly, the damage may have already been done. His cynical marketing ploy may have generated a few more clicks on social media and driven a couple-thousand more sales, but at what price?