Jorginho on his 'unreal' Ballon d'Or dream, trusting Thomas Tuchel – and having the last laugh on England

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Jorginho on his 'unreal' Ballon d'Or dream, trusting Thomas Tuchel – and having the last laugh on England - DAVID ROSE
Jorginho on his 'unreal' Ballon d'Or dream, trusting Thomas Tuchel – and having the last laugh on England - DAVID ROSE

Jorginho loves to laugh. Whether it be at his peroxide blond hair, at England for losing the final of the European Championship or at the thought of his mother’s uncontrollable tears of joy in the aftermath of Chelsea winning the Champions League.

But the loudest laugh, during 30 relaxed minutes at Chelsea’s Cobham training ground, comes when Jorginho is asked to contemplate what he would have said at the start of the year if he had been told he would finish it with Champions League and European Championship winners’ medals, a Super Cup success, the Uefa men’s player of the year award and, potentially, the Ballon d’Or.

“Ha, I’d say ‘where can I sign?’,” says the Chelsea and Italy midfielder. “In everyone’s mind, that wouldn’t be possible because it would be, like, too much. But then nothing’s impossible, you just need to believe. And want it, really want it and then you can achieve it.”

Jorginho is one of five Chelsea players among the 30 nominees for the Ballon d’Or and is rated among the favourites, alongside Lionel Messi, Robert Lewandowski and Karim Benzema.

If the award was simply handed to the player who has won the most over the past year, then the vote would be called off now, as Jorginho’s achievements are unmatched.

“It’s unreal,” says Jorginho. “Because my dream was just to be a professional footballer and then things started to happen and I kept believing and working really hard.”

Jorginho has been described as a player who makes others shine by Chelsea head coach Thomas Tuchel and yet his individual contribution to the team’s success in the Champions League, and to Italy’s victorious Euros campaign, cannot be overstated.

Thomas Tuchel and Jorginho - Jorginho exclusive: His 'unreal' Ballon d'Or dream, trusting Thomas Tuchel – and having the last laugh on England - GETTY IMAGES
Thomas Tuchel and Jorginho - Jorginho exclusive: His 'unreal' Ballon d'Or dream, trusting Thomas Tuchel – and having the last laugh on England - GETTY IMAGES

No outfield player spent more time on the pitch than Jorginho in Chelsea’s Champions League run, as he started 12 of the 13 games and completed the full 90 minutes of each knockout match.

For Italy, Jorginho was the outfield player with the most minutes in the Euros and covered the most distance during the tournament. The 29-year-old completed 497 passes, the most of any midfielder, with a 93 per cent accuracy.

No wonder Italy manager Roberto Mancini is among the high-profile voices to call for Jorginho’s performances to be rewarded with the ultimate personal accolade.

“It’s hard to keep it out [thoughts about the Ballon d’Or] because there’s a lot going on about it and a lot of people saying these things, which I appreciate a lot,” he says. “But I try to not think that much because then I lose focus on other important things we are fighting for. I just try to wait and see what’s going to happen.”

Jorginho’s journey from his home town of Imbituba in Brazil to Italy and then Chelsea has been long and at times arduous, but it has all been worthwhile – including his tough start to life at Stamford Bridge.

“It’s something so far from where I come from. I come from a really small town. And just to have an opportunity, for someone who comes from there, it’s really hard and rare. I had to go across the world, change my life completely at 15 and then I find myself here, all these things happening and it’s just unreal.”

Arriving at Chelsea for £50 million from Napoli with Maurizio Sarri in 2018, Jorginho faced criticism for his performances, and accusations that he was a favourite of the Italian coach during his first season.

Jorginho and Maurizio Sarri - Jorginho on his 'unreal' Ballon d'Or dream, trusting Thomas Tuchel – and having the last laugh on England - GETTY IMAGES
Jorginho and Maurizio Sarri - Jorginho on his 'unreal' Ballon d'Or dream, trusting Thomas Tuchel – and having the last laugh on England - GETTY IMAGES

So, for his critics to now recognise his strengths and, in some instances, join those who believe he should win the Ballon d’Or makes his achievements all the sweeter.

“That’s the beautiful part of football, isn’t it? I think it’s all about time, to adapt and understand on both sides. When a new player comes to the Premier League from another league, he needs time to understand the league and play better, and appreciate that.
“And maybe here in the Premier League, everybody was more used to a No 6 being a big guy, fighting, tackles and not playing as much. So, maybe it needed time for them to see and understand me well because it was new for them.”

Jorginho is known as one of the jokers inside the Chelsea dressing room and that comes through when he talks. Nothing is off limits in terms of sharing a laugh, but he insists his dyed hair was not a jibe at England’s players, who had promised to do the same if they had won the Euros.

“That would be a good joke, but it wasn’t meant like that. It was business, a company wanted to do something for photos and Instagram. Did I think it would wash out? No, I knew it would take time, I’m not that stupid. Now I’m waiting for my natural colour to come back.”

Tuchel evidently likes Jorginho’s style on and off the pitch, and the connection between the pair has been a key part of the vice-captain’s elevation.

“I think he is a big part of it because since day one he believed in me and he trusted me, so I really appreciate what he has done for me. Straightaway there was a connection with him and his staff. I could understand what he wanted, you just get it and you can go for it. So, I think that was the important part, not a specific moment.”

But it will not be Tuchel who is invited as Jorginho’s guest of honour for the Nov 29 ceremony at the Theatre du Chatelet in Paris, when he and the rest of the nominees will find out who has been voted the world’s best player for 2021.

Jorginho’s mother, Maria Tereza Freitas, became an internet sensation among Chelsea supporters after she cried on her first visit to the club shop when she saw her son’s name on the back of a shirt.

Despite coronavirus restrictions, she managed to see her son play in the final of the Champions League and, according to Jorginho, cried her way through the celebrations. But Maria had to watch the final of the Euros on television in Brazil and is determined not to miss what could prove to be another big milestone.

“If I can, she has to be there with me [at the Ballon d’Or ceremony]. I have no idea how she would react if I won, but she would be crying somewhere! It would be unbelievable, amazing.”

It was after Chelsea beat Atletico Madrid in the Champions League that Jorginho started to sense something special might be on the horizon, and that feeling has snowballed with both his club and country.

“When we went through against Atletico and saw the draw, then it was like ‘this year could be special’. And then we went forwards and won, and I thought ‘this already is special’. The Champions League gave me even more motivation for the Euros because I thought ‘this is good, I want more’. I was pushing because I wanted the feeling again.

“I went to the Euros and I could feel there was something in the air, the atmosphere. First game in Italy, there was something special in the air between the people outside the hotel, the music, the music we put on the bus, the atmosphere between us. There was such a strong connection and such a good atmosphere. It felt like ‘this is our moment, don’t lose it’.”

There is another pause for laughter, when it is pointed out that England also believed it was their moment. “Almost,” comes the reply.

For all the success and the highs of the past six months, Jorginho cannot quite shake off the memory of seeing his penalty saved in the Euros final by Jordan Pickford.

Briefly becoming more serious, Jorginho says: “I still think about the final, especially the penalty. People might say it doesn’t matter, but it does for me. It hurts. It still hurts now, even though we won. Whoever says it doesn’t because it doesn’t matter is a liar.”

Asked how many times he has watched the final, Jorginho adds: “Not that much, probably because it hurts a bit. I couldn’t believe it, Pickford did very well.

“I just thought ‘f---, I disappointed my team-mates’ because they trusted me so much in that moment. Then, when I walked back, and it was a long, long walk, I looked and saw it was [Bukayo] Saka and Gigio [Donnarumma] and I was pretty sure he was going to save it. I was like ‘it’s OK, it’s done’.”

Unsurprisingly, given his nature, Jorginho has not been shy to celebrate his success with club and country. He sang “It’s coming Rome” with Leonardo Bonucci following Italy’s victory and most recently has starred in an advert in which he presents an “English soup” to Mancini before bursting into laughter.

“Not just me [making the jokes], Italy in general,” says Jorginho, again laughing. “It’s just jokes, healthy jokes. Nothing bad.”

He is similarly unabashed about showing off his silverware, saying: “My second-place medals, maybe they are in a drawer. But then my winners’ medals, they are in the living room for everyone to see when they come to visit.”

But Jorginho insists that not even the addition of the Ballon d’Or to his mantelpiece would alter how he prioritises which of the medals and trophies of the past six months mean the most to him.

“Without the team, the individual trophies wouldn’t come. So, how can I put the individual in front of the team? I can’t because without the team, it would not be possible, never, ever for this to happen. So, the team prizes are more important, of course.”

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