Is Jorginho Chelsea’s Future Or The Player Suffocating Them?

February 18, 2019

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When Jorginho arrives at Wembley on Sunday for the Carabao Cup final he will walk through the players’ entrance and, naturally, open the door to the Chelsea dressing room. Had things turned out a little differently in the summer, though, he would have opened the door on the other side of the corridor and taken his seat among the Manchester City ranks.

Pep Guardiola knew what he wanted in the summer transfer window and what he wanted was Jorginho, a midfield pass master in the mould of the great Catalan coach. At one point, the City boss thought the deal was as good as sealed, that all was left was for the Italian to put pen to paper.

Of course, as we now know, Jorginho never put pen to paper, at least not to City’s contract offer. Instead, the 27-year-old decided to join his former Napoli manager Maurizio Sarri at Chelsea, providing an underlying narrative to Sunday’s Carabao Cup final. It was quite the coup for the Stamford Bridge side.

To date, though, Jorginho hasn’t lived up to his billing. His first six months at Chelsea have been difficult, with the Italian viewed as the on-field embodiment of ‘Sarri-ball,’ the trademark ideology that has divided many. Untangling years of footballing culture was always going to be tough for Sarri, but few expected it to be this tough and Jorginho has bore the brunt of exasperation.

“He can’t run,” raged Rio Ferdinand after one particularly passive performance by Jorginho. The BT Sport pundit also pointed out how the Italian has played more than 2,000 passes this season, more than anyone else in the Premier League, but has yet to contribute a single assist. “He doesn’t give you anything defensively, and he doesn’t give you anything up the other end of the pitch,” the former Manchester United defender added.

Indeed, it can sometimes be a challenge to pinpoint exactly what Jorginho offers Chelsea. It’s always easy to spot him, given how many times he touches the ball. He is not the sort of player to disappear, but it’s in what he does or doesn’t do is where the debate truly lies.

“Jorginho needs movement without the ball from the other players, because he is used to playing one-touch and it is very difficult to play one-touch without the movement of the other players,” explained Sarri when asked to explain why his summer signing has struggled. “So, if the team, like in the first 20-25 minutes, played very well with movements without the ball, then for Jorginho it is easier, I think.”

Much has been made of Sarri’s decision to use N’Golo Kante, widely considered to be the best defensive midfielder in the game, higher up the pitch, even on the wings at times. But it’s clear that Jorginho needs someone to drive the ball forward for the system to work, and Sarri has seen something in Kante to suggest he can perform such a role.

Not since Michael Carrick has there been a Premier League midfielder whose role in a team unit has been so comprehensively picked apart. Just like Jorginho, Carrick’s purpose at Man Utd was the subject of much debate, with some claiming he was underrated and others arguing he was overrated.

Depending on who you listen to, Jorginho is either the image of Chelsea’s future or the one suffocating them. Under Sarri, the Blues have turned in a number of insipid performances, with Jorginho blamed for many of them. For many, he embodies the worst of possession-based football, playing countless passes without much of a purpose.

Others will argue that Sarri needs to stock his squad with players of his own who can better fit into the system before Jorginho can be truly judged. Going in recent transfer activity at Stamford Bridge, though, that could be a slow process, which won’t help Jorginho.

Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp both received a bye in their first season in charge at City and Liverpool respectively. They too were charged with instilling an ideology on a group of players and their employers recognised that this would take time. Sarri might need even more time given the makeup of the squad he inherited at Chelsea and Jorginho might require similar patience.

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Author: Graham Ruthven

Graham Ruthven is a football writer and broadcaster based in Glasgow, Scotland. He was written for the New York Times, the Guardian, Eurosport, Bleacher Report, Four Four Two, The Scotsman and others. He is also a football shirt aficionado and still maintains to this day that Dennis Bergkamp didn’t mean it

Twitter @grahamruthven

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