Gutsy Jorginho display shows why Chelsea midfielder deserves place among Ballon d’Or favourites

·4-min read
Gutsy Jorginho display shows why Chelsea midfielder deserves place among Ballon d’Or favourites

With nerves of steel, Jorginho stepped up, sent David de Gea the wrong way and Stamford Bridge into raptures.

Was there ever any doubt?

Actually, yes. The midfielder’s crucial penalty miss in Italy’s World Cup qualifier against Switzerland this month contributed to the European champions now facing the uncertainty of the play-offs to reach Qatar next year.

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That is not the point. The point is that Jorginho — on the back of that very recent setback and a horror moment that gifted Manchester United the lead yesterday — had the strength of character to seize the ball when Aaron Wan-Bissaka went through the back of Thiago Silva.

There was the customary check in his stride and enough disguise in his run up to fool De Gea. Then, with perfect technique, he swept the ball into the opposite corner. The 19 minutes it took him to go from zero to hero was a microcosm of the qualities that dragged him from the fringes at Chelsea this time last year, to one of the favourites to win the Ballon d’Or tonight.

His self-belief is as consistent as his metronomic use of the ball. No matter the chaos around him, Jorginho is one of football’s constants.

Which is why the sight of him horribly mis-controlling Bruno Fernandes’s most agricultural of punts upfield five minutes into the second half came as such a surprise. Jadon Sancho pounced and left Jorginho in his wake as he darted into the open space and slid his shot past Edouard Mendy.

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Those things simply do not happen to Jorginho. Which is why Thomas Tuchel’s explanation of the incident sounded wholly plausible.

“He misjudged the situation and I think he was heavily disturbed from the lights,” said the manager. “It happens.”

It does — and Jorginho did not waste any time feeling sorry for himself. Much like the first half of last season when Frank Lampard’s cultural shift largely left him shunted to the side. It was a goalless draw with United in October of last year when Jorginho started his last Premier League match for almost two months.

Between October 24 and Lampard’s sacking at the end of January, he started just three times in the league, with the distinct sense that he was being phased out of the team. During that period Lampard had also removed him from penalty-taking duties, with Timo Werner promoted to first choice.

It would have been easy for him to become a disruptive influence in a team that went into rapid decline from the start of the December. Instead, he was ready and waiting to answer Tuchel’s call to become a pivotal figure in the team that would go on to win the Champions League.

As remarkable as Chelsea’s turnaround was from Lampard’s departure to the end of the season, Jorginho’s personal transformation was even more impressive, being crowned European champion with both club and country.

Such was his influence for Chelsea and, later, Italy at the Euros that he is one of the favourites to win tonight’s Ballon d’Or against greats like Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Robert Lewandowski.

He might not share the individual brilliance of Messi or Ronaldo but his place on the shortlist is undoubtedly on merit. He is a player whose limitations have too often been the focus of any critique of his game. In Tuchel, he has found a manager more concerned by what he can do than what he cannot.

 (Chelsea FC via Getty Images)
(Chelsea FC via Getty Images)

The 3-4-3 formation that has been so pivotal to Chelsea’s success has largely been about providing a platform for Jorginho to dictate play in the centre of the pitch.

Tuchel accepts that playing with two holding midfielders — or a double six, as he describes it — can limit his side’s attacking potential. But if he wants Jorginho in his team, he knows he needs the energy and speed of an N’Golo Kante or Mateo Kovacic alongside him.

Likewise in defence, a back three was quickly determined to be the best way to keep Thiago Silva in the team, with two more youthful defenders either side of him.

Eventually Tuchel may evolve the shape of his team, with Declan Rice still a long-term target, but Jorginho is too vital to his system to consider phasing the 29-year-old out yet.

The player who was derided when he first came to England and made the scapegoat for everything that was wrong with Sarri-ball has steadfastly refused to be caught up in the noise around him.

He just keeps on doing what he does.

Finally, football at large has caught on. But win or lose tonight, the suspicion is, he will remain as constant as ever.

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