As he prepares for a significant milestone in Chelsea’s Champions League clash with Juventus on Wednesday, Italy midfielder Jorginho can reflect on the golden year that silenced his critics.
Jorginho will make his 150th appearance for Chelsea in the Group H tie in Turin.
Underappreciated in England until the last few months, Jorginho has emerged as a key player for Chelsea and Italy after winning the Champions League and Euro 2020 in the space of just a few weeks.
The 29-year-old was recently named the Uefa Men’s Player of the Year for 2020/21 and has been mentioned as a leading candidate for the prestigious Ballon d’Or award.
It is a remarkable renaissance for a player who became public enemy No. 1 among Chelsea fans after a turbulent first season with the Premier League club.
“All those who didn’t believe in me, who criticised me, I have to thank them too. They gave me even more encouragement. They motivated me to work harder and harder to prove they were wrong,” Jorginho said. “Everything that happened was thanks to the people that stood by me — family, friends, my agent, my teammates, coaches, physios, kitmen.”
Jorginho was such a scapegoat for the failed Maurizio Sarri reign that for him to be at Chelsea long enough to reach 150 appearances seemed unlikely just 18 months ago.
In his maiden campaign with the Blues, he was relentlessly targeted by supporters frustrated with the team’s unimaginative performances under Sarri.
Sarri had paid $68 million to bring the Italy midfielder with him from Napoli amid intense interest from Manchester City.
The pair were unveiled on the same day at Stamford Bridge in 2018, but there was no honeymoon period for either man in west London.
‘Sarri-ball’ — the manager’s possession-based philosophy — failed to translate from Serie A to the more frenetic environment of the Premier League.
And Jorginho’s habit of passing sideways or backwards to ensure Chelsea kept the ball infuriated fans who demanded a more forward-thinking approach.
United v Villarreal
Manchester United cross paths with Villarreal once more on Wednesday in desperate need of a win to avoid another European embarrassment and ease the rising pressure on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
The Yellow Submarine emerged 11-10 winners from a marathon penalty shoot-out when the sides last met in the Europa League final in May to win their first ever major trophy.
Defeat extended Solskjaer’s wait for silverware as United boss since taking charge in December 2019, but goalkeeper David de Gea was the fall guy in Gdansk.
The Spanish international’s failure to stop a single Villarreal penalty was compounded when he was the only player from the 22 on both sides to fail to score from the spot.
At the time it looked like De Gea’s days as United No. 1 may be up, despite being one of the highest paid players in the Premier League.
Solskjaer had already handed the reins to Dean Henderson towards the of the Premier League season and his decision not to at least bring on the England goalkeeper, who boasts a far better penalty record, became another stick with which to beat his management of the final.
But Henderson’s health suffered badly after testing positive for coronavirus during pre-season, giving De Gea the gloves for the start of the campaign.
Despite a mixed bag of results, United would be even worse off if it wasn’t for the 30-year-old’s return to form.
De Gea produced a series of miraculous saves as the Red Devils escaped with a 1-0 win at Wolves.
And he ended his hoodoo of failing to save 41 penalties on the trot for club and country when he denied Mark Noble in stoppage time of a dramatic 2-1 victory at West Ham.
“I try to train very well, to show that I’m ready and then go to the game with the same spirit, experience and quality for the team,” said De Gea. “I feel well, I fell strong, I feel confident. I’m really happy and that’s the most important thing.”
However, those wins at Molineux and the London Stadium papered over cracks that are beginning to show in United’s unbalanced squad.
Solskjaer’s men have lost three of their past four games despite adding Cristiano Ronaldo and Jadon Sancho to a squad already rich in attacking talent.
The English giants only dropped into the Europa League last season after crashing out at the group stages.
And anything less than revenge against Villarreal would leave them in severe danger of doing the same again after losing their group opener to Swiss side Young Boys.
The excitement generated by Ronaldo’s return to Old Trafford has only intensified the scrutiny on Solskjaer to deliver in his third full season in charge.
But his Champions League record of seven defeats in 11 games does not make for pretty reading.
Solskjaer is yet to find the right midfield balance to carry the defensive burden for his array of attacking talent.
And he may be even more reliant on De Gea for the visit of Unai Emery’s men with defenders Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw major doubts due to injury.