As is so often the case, this summer is one of renewal at Stamford Bridge.
Antonio Conte, the Italian manager who led Chelsea to the Premier League title in 2017 and FA Cup in 2018, has gone. In his place, enter Conte’s compatriot Maurizio Sarri.
The new head coach, who was presented last Saturday, carries with him a reputation for teams that play slick, attractive, attacking football and alongside him at his unveiling was another man who will be central to making that happen at Stamford Bridge next season.
Jorginho, the Brazilian-born Italy international midfielder, is Sarri’s first signing as Chelsea manager and, after the pair spent three successful seasons together at Napoli, he will be the perfect player to translate Sarri’s plans into action on the pitch.
Indeed, the fact that Sarri moved to west London was a deciding factor in Jorginho heading in the same direction.
The 26-year-old had been the subject of long-standing interest from Pep Guardiola and Manchester City, but the chance to work with his old boss in a new location was too good for the new Chelsea number 5 to pass up.
Jorginho has spent the last decade in Italy, playing first for Hellas Verona before making the move to Naples, but was born thousands of kilometers away in the southern Brazilian state of Santa Catarina. From there, it was a long and arduous journey to the top of world football.
Brought up in a tiny coastal town, he was first taught the game by his mother, an avid player and fan, on the beaches near their house. Together, they would spend hours perfecting his touch and passing.
Then, at the age of 13, he moved around 200km away from home to take part in a player development project run by Italian agent Alessandro Blasi. It was the chance he had longed for, but it also turned out to be the start of a tough period.
When Jorginho was 15, Blasi offered him the chance to move to Verona to play in Hellas’ youth ranks.
Unfortunately, the agent was one of the many unscrupulous characters who prey on the hopes and dreams of young Brazilian boys who wish to become professional players.
The intermediary received €30,000 from the club for each young talent he discovered, but the club did not pay Jorginho a salary. The only money he received was €20 a week from Blasi, who pocketed the rest.
“I couldn’t buy anything”, the player recalled in a 2013 interview with GloboEsporte. “I put €5 of credit on my phone, bought a €6 international call card, some hygiene products, which took it to 15, and the rest I used to talk to my family on the internet.”
He spent 18 months in that predicament, often longing to return home, before meeting fellow Brazilian Rafael Pinheiro, who was the Hellas number one at the time.
“I told him my story and he couldn’t believe it, he was desperate [for me]”, Jorginho recounted. “From then on, he made sure I didn’t want for anything and introduced me to his agent.”
Blasi remained legally responsible for Jorginho until he turned 18, but he was then able to break ties with the man he refers to as “dishonest”. The elegant midfielder has been on an upward trajectory ever since.
After a spell out on loan in the Italian fourth tier, he broke into the Hellas Verona first team in the middle of the 2011/12 campaign. The following season, Jorginho was the Gialloblu’s standout player as they won promotion to Serie A, and he started to attract admiring glances fro m clubs around Europe.
His metronomic passing and ability to break opposition lines with pinpoint through balls are the main features of his game and in 2014, he told Corriere Dello Sport that, “As a child my idol was Kaka, but I tried playing in his position and it didn’t suit me. My place is in front of the defence, I have no doubts.
“That is why I took inspiration from Pirlo, the best in that role. His secret is that it’s rare to see him get it wrong. He makes even the most complicated scenarios seem simple, never giving the ball away.”
After moving to Napoli, Jorginho initially struggled to break into Rafa Benitez’s first team, but with the arrival of Sarri, he became a fixture in the side.
Sarri’s approach to football relies on his teams controlling possession and moving the ball quickly around the midfield, a style to which the 26-year-old is perfectly suited.
Like Pirlo, the Brazilian seems to have a mental map of where everybody is on the pitch before he receives the ball, meaning that he never looks flustered and almost always manages to pick out one of his team-mates.
No player in Europe completed more passes than the man from Santa Catarina over the 2017-18 season.
Despite being born and brought up in the south of Brazil, Jorginho made an appearance for Italy’s U21s all the way back in 2012 and has long spoken of his desire to represent the Azzurri at senior level. He was, however, made to wait before he could pull on the blue shirt.
Gian Piero Ventura, manager of the national team from 2016-17, believed that the Chelsea player did not fit into his preferred 4-2-4 formation and thus refused to call him up until times were desperate.
After endless encouragement from ex-pros and pundits in Italy, Jorginho was finally given his competitive international debut in the World Cup qualifying playoff against Sweden in November 2017.
It was a horrible experience. His first 90 minutes in a competitive game for his adopted country saw Italy fail to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 1958. After the game, he told UOL Esporte that “[The Italy players] couldn’t talk they were crying so much, and that really affected me.”
However, with Roberto Mancini now at the helm for Italy, and his mentor Sarri in charge of Chelsea, Jorginho seems to be having two teams built around his supreme passing ability.
Coming into his peak years, he will be determined to prove his worth, whichever shade of blue he might be wearing. And, with the challenges he has overcome to get to this point, he will certainly not be phased by the pressure these new ones bring.