How Jorginho became a Ballon d'Or contender ahead of Euro 2020 final

Jorginho lived in a convent and cried every night after moving to Italy from Brazil at 15… now he is an unlikely Ballon d’Or contender after Champions League glory with Chelsea and England in his sights at Euro 2020 final

  • Jorginho will be a vital figure in Italy’s midfield during Sunday’s Euro 2020 final
  • The 29-year-old’s journey to this point saw him move to Verona from Brazil at 15 
  • Jorginho lived in a convent with a priest and cried in his bedroom most nights
  • With the help of Maurizio Sarri, he is now one of Europe’s top-rated midfielders
  • The Champions League winner with Chelsea is now tipped to win the Ballon D’Or

Jorginho could become a Champions League winner and lift the Euro 2020 trophy in the space of a month this summer in an incredible calendar year for the midfielder so far. 

The Italian has been at the heart of Roberto Mancini’s side who have dazzled European fans since day one of the tournament. His displays have led to talk, from the likes of Italian players and former boss Maurizio Sarri, about a potential Ballon d’Or nomination later this year. 

Victory at Wembley in Sunday’s final against England would be a career highlight for Jorginho, whose journey up until this point rivals the drama that saw him net the winning penalty in the semi-final shootout over Spain. 

Jorginho (middle) is Italy’s midfield star ahead of the Euro 2020 final with England at Wembley

The midfielder is hoping to add the Euro 2020 title to his Champions League triumph this year

But the metronome in this Italian team might not have been there at all.

Born in Brazil, Jorginho has lived in Italy since he was 15. He grew up in Verona living in a convent. He wanted to quit football but his mother stopped him from doing so. 

The man who put the midfielder on the right track is Riccardo Prisciantelli, the former chief executive of Hellas Verona. In 2007, Verona had disastrous financial woes but Prisciantelli got a phone call that would change Italian football forever.

‘I remember that day like any other normal day,’ he told Gazzetta dello Sport. ‘It was 2007 and a businessman from Verona (Italy) who worked in South America called me to offer some young players.

‘I told them my club doesn’t have the budget but if you want, you can bring them to Italy.’

Jorginho moved to Verona as a 15-year-old from Brazil and initially struggled in his Italy career

Jorginho posted this throwback picture of his younger self in action, alongside him now

One of them was a 15-year-old Jorginho, who arrived in the country without any family.

The midfielder’s impact in Verona was immediate. But off the field, the young man who left Brazil, and did not yet have Italian citizenship, needed to stay in the official training ground and was struggling. 

Prisciantelli recalled: ‘I was on my way to the field, the assistant called me because he saw this young man (Jorginho) dribbling. He was really crazy. We took him to training sessions and games.

‘It took a long time for him to settle in. He couldn’t live in a boarding school with his companions. I gave Jorginho to a trusted priest next to him so he can have a bed and have a hot meal. 

‘I paid for the priest. I didn’t always have money when I argued with him about giving Jorginho something to eat.

The 29-year-old lived in a convent with a Verona priest and cried in his bedroom every night

‘I gave him €20-a-week or €50 if I could. Rafael, the Brazilian first-team goalkeeper, did the same. I had to do that so he could study, learn the language and play football.’ 

That determination and support allowed Jorginho to develop the never-say-die attitude he has today. From his days in the Verona youth team, he earned the nickname ‘The Wolf of the Future’. 

‘Everyone recognises the determination of a lion, to me he is a wolf,’ added Prisciantelli. ‘He works three times as hard on the pitch and harder than anyone else.

‘Every night tears fell in that dark and sad room (with the priest). But I know that he never gave up. 

‘I bought some equipment to set up a small gym at the sports centre. He would arrive at dawn and keep going until we allowed him to leave.’

Maurizio Sarri (right) changed Jorginho’s life by taking him to Napoli and Chelsea after Verona

Everything changed for Jorginho when Sarri became manager of Verona in 2008.

It would be the start of a partnership which would see the midfielder break into the first team, join the manager’s revolution at Napoli before the pair emigrated together with Chelsea in 2017. 

Prisciantelli remembers: ‘He asked me to bring someone up from the youth academy. Sarri saw Jorginho and decided on him. 

‘That’s why he later wanted to have a “Wolf” at Napoli and then at Chelsea, which he succeeded in doing.’

Sarri and Jorginho may not work together anymore but the midfielder’s decision to follow his manager to Chelsea has set up a potential Ballon d’Or-winning campaign in 2021.

It has not been the perfect calendar year by any stretch. N’Golo Kante continues to take all the plaudits in west London while a final at Wembley will remind Jorginho of the 1-0 FA Cup final defeat to Leicester at the end of May.  

All-action midfielder Jorginho (left) now is a vital figure for Chelsea and his national team

Jorginho stepped up to score the winning penalty in the semi-final shootout win over Spain

Now 29 years old, Jorginho is nothing short of a big-game player for both club and country. He played 90 minutes in the Champions League final win over Manchester City, which saw the Blues stifle Pep Guardiola’s all-star midfield. 

Against Spain in the Euro 2020 semi-final on Tuesday night, five out of Italy’s front six were substituted off by Mancini – Jorginho was the only one trusted to last the 90 minutes.

The last-four clash at Wembley culminated in the midfielder striding, hopping and skipping up to the penalty spot to send Italy to the final – the Azzurri’s most important and impressive penalty since Andrea Pirlo chipped Joe Hart at Euro 2012.

Pirlo and Co made it to the final that year but fell at the final hurdle, losing to Spain 4-0 in the final.

Jorginho has the chance to put that right against England on Sunday. 

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