Tuesday 08 February 2022, 08:00

Jorginho: Nobody can dispute I deserved what I won

  • Jorginho helped Chelsea and Italy become European champions in 2021

  • The reigning UEFA Men’s Player of the Year wants another trophy in Abu Dhabi

  • He discusses his heroes, success and semi-final opponents Al Hilal

‘Canelo’ Alvarez, Tom Brady, Novak Djokovic, Emma McKeon, Elaine Thompson-Herah, Max Verstappen… a footballer is in illustrious company in the sanctuary of sport’s most successful figures of 2021. Not Lionel Messi. Not Cristiano Ronaldo. Not Robert Lewandowski. A player who, by contrast, almost quit the game before he’d even kicked a ball professionally and who, going into his Annus mirabilis, nobody could have foreseen becoming its most decorated performer. Jorginho was fundamental as Chelsea conquered the UEFA Champions League in Porto in May. His superhuman performances – the midfielder broke multiple all-time UEFA EURO records – inspired Italy to a first crown in 52 years at Wembley in July. A UEFA Super Cup winner’s medal was then hung around his neck in Belfast in August.

He heard, from an Istanbul ceremony later that month, that he had been named the UEFA Men's Player of the Year. Then, from Zurich, he came fifth in The Best FIFA Men’s Player 2021 running and made the FIFA FIFPRO World XI. Jorginho hasn’t finished. He wants to lift the FIFA Club World Cup UAE 2021™ trophy in Abu Dhabi. On the eve of that mission’s take-off, the 30-year-old sits down for a chat with FIFA.

FIFA: Who were your idols as a kid? Jorginho: My first idol as a kid was Ronaldo ‘Fenômeno’, from the 1998 World Cup. After that came Ronaldinho Gaucho, Kaka. I played in a little bit more attacking role until I was 13 years old. At 13 I joined this project that would send the boys who they thought were ready and could have a future in Europe over there. The Italian coach who was in Brazil, Mauro Bertacini, said to me, ‘You’re position is a little further back – this is where you have a future’. From then I started to watch with more admiration, to be able to learn from them too, [Andrea] Pirlo and Xavi, who became huge inspirations. You went to Italy on your own as a 15-year-old to pursue a football career. How difficult was the adaptation process? Obviously it wasn’t easy because when I arrived in Italy I lived in a room [in a house] with another five adolescents. We didn’t go without anything. The people there really looked after us – the cooks, Lucia and Bruna, Gabriela, the woman who looked after the cleaning. They looked after our things, washed our clothes, did a lot more to help us. But in terms of doing other things, we didn’t have much money. We lived on 20 euros per week. You can’t do much with 20 euros, as you can imagine.

Were you happy to see Edouard Mendy win the AFCON the other night? I’m really happy for Mendy and [Kalidou] Koulibaly, who are big friends. To see them happy, winning makes me happy too. I’m really happy for them. What does it mean to be at the Club World Cup and to be here as favourites? It means a lot to me personally and I’m sure it means a lot to the club, because we’ve never won this trophy and this is the right time to bring this trophy home. We need to stay humble because if you underestimate your opponents, you can be in trouble. You need to be prepared, train well, sleep well, eat well, do everything as professionally as you can to arrive in the game and be able to win. It’s what we want to do, it’s what we like to do. We don’t like losing games and we want to bring this trophy home.

What do you think of Al Hilal? I think we have to be cautious because they have quality players. They also have the Brazilians who have great talent. Those two could give us problems if we don’t mark them tightly. We have to impose our own game and be wary of the weapons they have. We need to be cautious, we need to prepare well for the game because if you underestimate your opponents you can suffer an upset. In today’s football there are no more easy matches. Roberto Carlos, Edmundo, Rivaldo, Cafu, Djalminha, Alex, Dudu... which Palmeiras player have you most enjoyed watching over the years? Wow, a lot of incredible players. A lot. I used to like watching Marcos play in goal too. I love watching beautiful football. I can’t single one out because all of those played spectacular football. They were all huge stars. Honestly, when you think about it, Palmeiras have had a lot of greats.

As a Sao Paulo supporter, would you have extra motivation to beat Palmeiras? (laughs) I hadn’t thought about this. (laughs) But you end up feeling it! I hope we can win on Wednesday. Right now, I’m thinking only about Al Hilal. You finished joint-fifth for The Best FIFA Men’s Player 2021 award. Given the football you played, and given the huge trophies Chelsea and Italy won, do you think you deserved to win it? I think I deserved what I won – nobody can dispute that. I’m really happy for everything I achieved. I didn’t achieve it alone. I know that all the people who helped me, who were involved were part of this too. I won some awards, I didn’t win this one but I was really pleased to be in named in the [FIFA FIFPRO World XI].