After the miserable results of the latest campaigns, there has been no end to the blame games played in Turin and among the diaspora of Juventini on the web. Fingers have been pointed in almost every direction, and it’s fair to say that very few involved with the club since 2006 can be said to be completely guilt-free. ‘A Point to Prove‘ is a new series where we will focus solely on the PLAYERS. In the end, they are the ones who need to perform to get us out of this mess – and quite a lot of them have… something to prove.
Step forward, Giorgio Chiellini!
Yes for this one, I really am calling out one of the very rocks which we are supposed to build our church on. Not to say that Chiellini performed badly last season – if anything, he showed us he is a great central defender once more – but for a variety of reasons, I feel that we are entitled to demand a bit more from Giorgio of the Jungle, or ‘Keyser Giorgio’ as he’s affectionately known in some circles since his I-Own-Ibrahimovic day (doesn’t that stare make you think of Keyser Söze from Usual Suspects?).
Let’s get the obvious out of the way first: being a central defender at Juve has not been an enviable task as of late. The glaring lack of positional intelligence from the full-backs on either side has forced what should be the central unit to reach beyond the realms of possibility. To stretch (!) an analogy: the Juve centre-halves that should have been a tight fit model, at times last season resembled an over-sized knitted sweater. Nice fabrics, soft to the touch and… full of holes. In plainer words, it was a nigh on impossible task making the Juventus defense work properly given its personnel on the flanks.
That said, I still have an issue with Chiellini: he seems to genuinely lack the ability of being the undisputed focal point at the back. This is not due to a lack of physique or work rate, of course; no one in their right mind would dispute Chiellini’s superiority in those departments. But as a leader of men, this giant needs to grow.
Every defense needs a general calling the shots, someone with a commanding presence and the organizational skills to manage the back-line movements. A Leader with a capital L, plain and simple – not just by example, but by authority as well. However when he was needed the most last season that someone rarely showed up…
While Buffon’s absence (and not-too-triumphant return) probably didn’t help matters, like it or not, a lot of the responsibility for this falls on the (very) broad shoulders of our Giorgio. For many years now, Chiellini has been touted as ‘the next great Italian defender’, but isn’t it about time he becomes the actual one? That he makes that jump from ‘very very good’ to ‘great’?
As I write this, the subject of our analysis is probably celebrating his 27th birthday somewhere (he was born August 14, 1984). Yes, twenty-seventh! As I wish him a good one and all that, I still can’t help but hope that he will in turn look at that number himself, and realize how alarming it is that Leonardo Bonucci (then 23 and fresh from a season at Bari) often seemed the more assertive of the two last season (again, we’re not talking skill here, but rather leadership and vision).
After 7 seasons in Bianconero, it is naturally expected of Chiellini to lift these responsibilities, not only in some games (when all goes well, Chiello seems to thrive and deliver brilliant performances), but – crucially – in every game. When the full-backs are shite and the marking is poor, someone needs to do something about it. Yelling, supporting, directing – whatever it takes to steady the ship.
There is no doubt that Chiellini is a defender capable of neutralising the opposition to an astonishing degree, nor that he is the MVP for Juve on a regular basis, or that his sheer ability makes him a natural starter for gli Azzurri. But to take that final step, to even be mentioned in the same breath as defensive legends like Scirea, Baresi, or pre-Calciopoli Cannavaro, he needs to add that dimension of leadership to his game. Judging on last season, he seems reluctant or incapable of doing this. Harsh words, maybe, but sadly true as of yet.
So just what is it that’s holding Chiellini back? Is it his early career, starting out as a left-back? Is it not playing centrally with Cannavaro before the latter’s somewhat jaded return to Turin? Or was he not able to truly learn from Legrottaglie, simply following his lead instead?
Whatever the case may be, two facts remain: Giorgio Chiellini is one heck of a defender – but he has yet to learn to impose himself on his teammates with the same authority as he does on his opponents. I for one am doubtful that he will ever be able to. Maybe we will just have to accept that it is so.
This is no condemnation, mind you. Not every good defender needs to have the ability to lead his unit. But someone must have it. And if Chiellini does not prove me wrong this season with regard to his role as a leader, we really have to hope that someone else steps up to the plate instead – and remain content with having an amiable and very, very good centre back in our ranks.