Jorginho beating Lionel Messi to 2021 Ballon d'Or could change the way football is viewed - Opinion
A remarkable 2021 has seen Chelsea midfielder Jorginho defy his critics to play a key role in the Blues' Champions League triumph as well as help Italy emerge victorious at Euro 2020. The 29-year-old is now in the previously unthinkable position where he might beat Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo to the Ballon d'Or. Ibrahim Mustapha looks at what this means for the game as a whole.
The list of nominees for the 2022 award was recently released and after his first Copa America triumph with Argentina as well as virtually carrying a rapidly declining Barcelona on his diminutive shoulders, Messi is the bookies favourite to reach seventh heaven this year.
Other runners and riders for the prize include the best attacking talent in the game right now such as Lewandowski, Kevin de Bruyne, Harry Kane Mohamed Salah and of course Messi’s old nemesis Ronaldo.
However, while a number of defenders and midfielders are included as well, one of the more unexpected names finds himself third favourite for the award, in the form of Chelsea and Italy midfielder Jorghino.
“If I had to pick the Ballon D'or winner,” said the player’s international manager Roberto Mancini. “it would have to be Jorginho for me.
“He's won the Champions League, the Euro, I think he fully deserves to win, it would be strange if he doesn't win it."
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Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel also said the midfielder ‘deserves’ the award, while the midfielder also found support from two more former legendary Azurri coaches in Marcello Lippi and Arrigo Sacchi.
Such a coronation for the Brazil-born 29-year-old would be quite the turnaround for someone who hasn’t always been the most popular figure since his 2018 move to Stamford Bridge.
Arriving from Napoli alongside Maurizio Sarri, Jorginho was often the “on field scapegoat for Sarri's problems” according to Eurosport’s Pete Sharland.
“Loads of fans would gladly have sold him when there were those rumours of Juve wanting him”.
Blues fans quickly grew weary of what seemed like ineffective ‘Sarri ball’ with Jorginho’s role in the centre of midfield seen as stifling the team’s attacking ambition.
Things changed under Lampard initially with his true value in the team starting to emerge.
His ball retention and ability knit the play together was becoming clear, and was soon nurtured under Tuchel as he went on to play a key role in the club’s Champions League run and ultimate success.
“Separating him from Sarri allowed people to see he's actually a great player and not just ‘a side pass merchant’” says Sharland.
Kante and Jorginho: Formidable if unfashionable
Image credit: Getty Images
Alongside N’Golo Kante, Jorginho barely gave the Manchester City team a sniff in the Porto triumph and it was in fact the Frenchman many were first tipping for the Ballon d’Or.
However, Jorginho starred again as Italy claimed the Euros, and surpassed his team-mate in talk of the honour – talk that intensified after he was recently named UEFA men’s player of the year.
Despite his achievements - including top scoring for Chelsea in the league last season, albeit with all seven goals coming from the penalty spot - it still comes as a surprise to see him in such him jostling for position the be named the world’s best player.
On the face of it, one might question why? He doesn’t score goals – not from open play anyway – nor does he even trouble goalkeepers with shots. There are few dribbles, nutmegs, flicks, tricks or any of the things we might marvel at from attack-minded players.
Even the Chelsea fans who watched him every week didn’t appreciate his contributions at first, even though his playing style hasn’t actually changed during his three years in west London.
Of course, success on the pitch helps but it is perhaps easier to identify the strengths of players like Jorginho and respect their roles far more than perhaps in the past.
The pretigeous trophy is up for grabs again
Image credit: Getty Images
The advancement in statistics and data usage in football in recent years have made this possible and ultimately, adjusting the prism in which the game is viewed. Previously unsung heroes are more visible as the unseen good work they do is now actually highlighted.
Jorginho often tops the charts for passes completed and breaking it down further, his passes are demonstrably key to how Chelsea play - does that make him more of a desirable asset than more 'exciting' players such as Hakim ZIyech and Christian Pulisic to Chelsea?
Technically minded players such as him are valued far more while the ‘flair’ player who takes risks in his approach may soon be less sought after as coaches favour 'a Jorginho' type - in any position - who can perform to a specific brief on the pitch.
Jorginho deserves all the plaudits for a remarkable year in football but if he were to beat Messi to the top award, it could prove hugely symbolic, for better or for worse, in reshaping and leading to a shift in how the game is played.