When the season was rudely interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, Jorginho was second only to captain César Azpilicueta in terms of non-goalkeeper minutes played for Chelsea. This time last year, not many would’ve expected that to be the case.
But Jorginho has proven all (well, most of) the naysayers wrong in the last twelve months, shedding his Sarri-ball cocoon to become a beautiful midfield butterfly. While that’s certainly overselling the transformation, Jorginho has shown that he does have more to his game than just static sideways passing, and he’s also emerged as an on-pitch leader with his elevation to vice-captain as well.
He couldn’t have that done without the support of the head coach of course, which he pointed out in a recent interview with ESPN Brasil.
“This has a lot to do with Lampard, thanks to the importance he has within the club. And the way he spoke about me as a person and as a player at the beginning of the season. Then the point of view and the opinions of those who used to criticise me started to change.
“In my opinion, those criticisms were without basis. The stats told a completely different story compared to the narrative. So I have to thank this coach a lot. All thanks to my work and his words, because it is not easy for a coach to step forward and speak well]of a player that the club’s supporters ‘do not like’.”
Jorginho’s personal journey is far from the only big change that’s been happening at Chelsea in this season. In fact, it’s been largely overshadowed by the departure of the era-defining Eden Hazard and the subsequent Youth Revolution™ engineered by Lampard and Jody Morris.
It’s not been smooth sailing — with kids it never is — but every lesson learned is a point of improvement for the future.
“When we started, we ended up doing better than what people expected. Issue is, we did it too fast! Then expectations went up and up [and] honestly we were not ready for that yet [after] changing so many players, and changing the manager. I do not even need to mention the youngsters, since there are a lot of young players this season.
“But this is normal. If you stop to evaluate our squad, our team, it is normal that we commit these mistakes. And it is normal that we need to grow, learn from this to reduce mistakes and keep ourselves at a high level.”
With youth comes often irrepressible exuberance, which can lead to tremendous excitement and a belief that anything is possible. But there’s a thin line between that and naïveté, as we have seen a few too many times this season as well with points dropped in disappointing and frustrating circumstances.
For Jorginho, one of the oldest players on the squad as well at 28, that’s all part of the learning process.
“Sometimes, honestly, there is lack of experience in the group, to understand the moments of the game, you know? Sometimes you cannot just attack, attack, attack. At times you also need to hold yourself back.”
“We may not like to hear it, but I believe that growth in this regard also needs time.”
Another area of change has been the team’s style and tactics. While the end-product can resemble Sarri-ball at times (especially against packed defenses), the new coach preaches a more aggressive, up-tempo, exciting style of football.
Combined with the youthful exuberance and the homegrown good-vibes, that has made this team one of the more beloved editions of Chelsea already, even though we haven’t actually won anything. (Yet.)
The excitement hasn’t all been at the other end unfortunately, but, again, it’s all a learning process, including for Jorginho, who’s being asked to play in a much more dynamic way than before, on and off the ball.
“We had changes in our playing style. It is a more direct form of football. A way of play with less ball retention, so to speak. But more direct, more attack-minded.
“This makes me more exposed in my position, so I have more space on the pitch to cover, running alongside the other midfielders.”
Lampard’s also proven far more adaptable and willing to change things that aren’t working, and while he may not always come up with the right answer, it’s certainly something that we can appreciate.
For the players, that also keeps everybody on their toes, knowing that their number could be called at any time, especially if they put in the work on the training ground.
“Honestly, we are very relaxed about this, about who is not a starter and who is. Because the coach sometimes makes choices that we do not expect. And we as players cannot think, ‘oh, I am the starter, that guy is not’. And I believe it is in his right to create those surprises, so that everyone is ready for any moment.”
“There is the good and the bad side [to Hazard leaving] as well. If there is no responsibility on top of one single player, that responsibility falls on the shoulders of everyone. And in my point of view, this is good because it makes us all accountable for what is happening. Many times, where there is only one player, the merit goes all towards him, as well as the blame. At the end of the day, football is teamwork.”
Chelsea’s growth has been interrupted alongside the rest of the football and the world at large by the pandemic. It’s not clear at this time when (if) things might resume and what effect this unscheduled interruption will have on the players and the process as a whole.
Either way, we’ll have to stay patient.
“Honestly, I believe this will take at least until next year. But then I could be talking about something that will be two years in the making, and then next year Chelsea is there [fighting at the top]!
“It is complicated, it depends on how the team reacts to the learning process, if the team can absorb information and learn faster than our opponents.”
-Jorginho; source: ESPN Brasil
As it is often the case with new things in life, change is hard and the learning curve is steep. But the sacrifices made on the path to success will be worth it.