From Boring to Bohemian: The Jorginho Turnaround

From being scapegoated last season to becoming a fan favourite this term, it has been quite the turnaround for Jorginho at Chelsea.

Football is a results business and there is very little room for failure. The one club that exemplifies this more than any other is Chelsea, a club where managers are walking a tightrope the moment they sign the dotted line. The players are not far behind either, especially when it comes to winning fans over.

Real Madrid fans often get a bad reputation for being no holds barred when whistling poor performers. But, Chelsea fans are not far behind either. The Boo-boys have spared very few, with cult favourites such as Didier Drogba, Eden Hazard and Diego Costa among those who have been subjected to jeers over the years. Jorginho is another player who falls in this category now.

Last term, there was very little that the Italian international could do right in the eyes of Chelsea fans, who subjected him to boos at different junctures of the season. Scapegoated for much of the inconsistencies that plagued the Blues under Maurizio Sarri, Jorginho has now completed a 180 degree turn at Stamford Bridge.

The 27-year-old has been named as the Chelsea vice-captain by Frank Lampard and is slowly starting to become a fan favourite. Let us take a look at how this turnaround has come to be for Jorginho.

Sarri’s Son, A “Boring” Player

"Sarri's Son" did not have the best of times last season. (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)
“Sarri’s Son” did not have the best of times last season. (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

After the turbulent end to Antonio Conte’s time as the Chelsea manager, Maurizio Sarri was viewed as a rather popular appointment. Not long after, Jorginho followed his former Napoli boss to Stamford Bridge, becoming Chelsea’s first signing in the summer of 2018.

The Italian international had been the midfield linchpin for Sarri at Napoli and the chain-smoking manager was even ready to burn bridges at San Paolo to ensure he brought the player with him to Chelsea.

Life with the Blues initially seemed to be a bed of roses, as Jorginho scored in Chelsea’s comfortable 2018-19 season-opening win over Huddersfield, looking comfortable all throughout. But, the thorns would soon present themselves.

In the second month of the season, Jorginho set the Premier League record for completing the most passes in a game, making a staggering 180 passes over the course of a game against West Ham United. However, the game ended in a drab goalless draw, with most of Jorginho’s passes going sideways and failing to break down a resolute West Ham defence.

As the season wore on, Jorginho garnered a reputation of being boring, playing lateral passes that created little threat. What also irked Chelsea supporters was the fact that he had displaced fan favourite N’Golo Kante to be the West Londoners’ holding midfielder.

Some of the statistics did not aid his cause either, as Jorginho completed 3,119 passes last season, the most in the Premier League, but only figured 76th, when it came to creating chances. And so, even though Sarri attempted to oversee a fluid brand of football, his possession-based system would often be rife with short passing complete with very little creativity; Jorginho would bear the brunt of the fans when this happened.

Jorginho was not helped by the fact that he was also labelled “Sarri’s son” in the dressing room. Cesc Fabregas even hinted that the Italian manager’s favouritism towards Jorginho was the reason he was driven out of Chelsea, as it had become impossible for him to play every game.

Things reached a head when the Boo-boys finally targeted Jorginho. Ahead of the UEFA Europa League game against Malmo, Jorginho was jeered onto the pitch and the point of no return was seemingly fast approaching.  When Sarri called it quits at Stamford Bridge this past summer, many believed Jorginho would follow him once again, this time out of Chelsea.

With his “father” not looking out in the dressing room, it could have been difficult for Jorginho to find his groove. In fact, a few Chelsea fans would have probably laughed at you if you said he would become a pivotal player in the season to come. But, a turnaround was indeed brewing.

The Flourish Under Lampard: Let Off His Leash

The smile is back. (Photo by Alex Burstow/Getty Images)
The smile is back. (Photo by Alex Burstow/Getty Images)

Jorginho’s first season at Chelsea might not have been hunky dory. But, there was enough evidence in the second half of the campaign to prove that he was actually starting to turn a corner and that a lot of the criticism was rather premature. Some of the numbers help his cause as well.

Jorginho completed the most through balls in the Premier League last term (34). Mocked for making no assists over the course of the season? His expected assists in the league last season were, in fact, five. Only Eden Hazard had more expected assists for Chelsea. Quite simply, his teammates just did not do enough to finish off the chances he did create.

Fast forward to the current season, and Jorginho has finally provided his first assist in Chelsea colours. With eight passes penetrating the opposition defence, he continues to lead the through ball charts once again.

But, the change in Jorginho following Frank Lampard’s appointment as the Chelsea boss has been on a more holistic level. Mateo Kovacic has claimed how the Chelsea players are playing with more freedom under Lampard. And, the one who has benefitted the most from this is Jorginho, who has been let off his leash and allowed to show his artistry.

Jorginho had the most touches in the Premier League last term (3,551), but most of his involvement was restricted to the middle of the park. Under Lampard’s tutelage, he is averaging fewer touches per 90 minutes (85 to last season’s 100). More importantly, his touches mean more, as he has been given the freedom to roam all over the pitch and link up defence with attack better.

The proof is clearly in the pudding, with Jorginho being more creative (1.2 key passes every 90 minutes this season to last season’s 0.8) while making fewer passes per 90 minutes (71 compared to 109), hence becoming more efficient and influential this term.

He has become more combative as well. Last season, Jorginho averaged 2.2 tackles and 1.8 interceptions while being dribbled past 1.5 times every 90 minutes. So far this season, those stats read 2.6, 2.4 and 1.8, respectively. All that point towards Jorginho becoming effective on and off the ball.

Jorginho also stacks up favourably against some of the best defensive midfielders in the Premier League. So far, Jorginho has won more tackles (14) and made more interceptions (18) than Manchester City’s Rodri (11, 6) and Liverpool’s Fabinho (12, 9), two players who feature in systems comparable with Chelsea.

It might still be early days. But, Jorginho is evidently starting to become a more complete, well-rounded player under Lampard, a player who pulls the strings while also doing a lot of the legwork required to become a top defensive midfielder in the Premier League. What has caught the eye the most, however, is the way he has become a leader for Chelsea.

Chelsea’s Midfield General: A Leader On And Off The Pitch

Taking the youngsters in his stride. (Photo by Glyn Kirk/AFP/Getty Images)
Taking the youngsters under his wing. (Photo by Glyn Kirk/AFP/Getty Images)

When Eden Hazard left Chelsea to join Real Madrid in the summer, the Blues had not only lost their most impactful player but also a leader. With Chelsea unable to add any players to their squad due to the transfer ban imposed on them by FIFA, the existing senior players needed to step up and guide the youngsters that were going to be blooded in by Lampard.

One player who raised his hand and showed his leadership qualities right from Lampard’s initial days as the Chelsea manager was Jorginho. The first impressions were quite positive, with Lampard lauding the 27-year-old for pushing his teammates to deliver their best, even in training.

“He’s a voice. He runs, he pushes people around him, he drags people up when he doesn’t feel they’re working as much as he might want. I’ve loved seeing that. So in terms of first impressions, working with him for 10 days, I can’t ask for any more. I’m delighted to have him,” the manager had said.

On the pitch, Jorginho is visibly more vocal. With inexperienced players all around him (Mason Mount and Tammy Abraham in front of him and Fikayo Tomori behind), he has taken charge, taking them under his wing and helping them through their teething periods.

And, just a couple of months into the season, Jorginho was promoted into a role very few would have envisioned him in.

Lampard named Jorginho as the Chelsea vice-captain earlier this month, emphasising how he has “crossed borders” in the dressing room, communicated with the youngsters to help them with their transition into the senior side and being a “driver” of the team both on and off the pitch.

By the looks of things, the added responsibility is well-deserved. Jorginho made the effort to learn English, something that some of the more experienced foreign players in the Premier League have failed to do over the years. A trivial decision for most, the idea is to go above and beyond for a team that is laden with youth under a new manager, who has clearly appreciated the effort.

Winning Fans Over

The new cult hero? (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
The new cult hero? (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)

When you are jeered by fans of your own team, it can be quite the crushing feeling. It was not too long ago that Jorginho was booed by the Chelsea fans, who were quite vocal in their displeasure of the Italian international and his ways on the pitch.

Six months later, when Jorginho scored from the spot to hand Chelsea the lead against a stubborn Brighton & Hove Albion, the turnaround had been complete. The goal, which was to be the winner of the game, forced the Stamford Bridge faithfuls to start chanting his name.

The Boo-boys had now started singing the praises of the erstwhile scapegoat; ‘Jorginho, Jorginho’ was ringing through Stamford Bridge. If nothing else, this was proof that the struggles under Sarri are now but a memory from a distant past. And, no one is more delighted by that than the player himself.

“Last season this was not possible but I am happy with how they have changed their mind about me. I worked a lot, I never said anything, I just work and work and work. It [the booing] made me a little bit sad because I knew it was not like that but my mind was I just have to work hard and change their minds and make them see they were making a mistake about me.”

Jorginho is no longer “Sarri’s son”, no longer a boring player who does not influence the game. He is a leader of Frank Lampard’s youth revolution, a player who is the heartbeat of a team that is capturing the imagination of onlookers and dare I say, a fan favourite.

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