Champion of Europe with Italy and Chelsea and one of the midfield cornerstones of both sides, Jorginho is one of the most winning players of 2021 and Kaustubh Pandey discusses whether he deserves to win the Ballon d’Or.
In a lot of ways, the Ballon D’or is a flawed concept. It’s about handing out an individual award in a team sport and you can pick holes in the argument for any potential winner. It often comes down to comparing a midfielder to a striker or a defender to a goalscorer. It always leads to the wackiest debates on social media, making sure that fans debate the awards and help the organisers subconsciously market the event.
In a team sport, every player is helped by all of his teammates. You see, top football teams operate like well-oiled machines. As much as some individual quality matters, it often comes from another part of the machine grinding hard. A bit like the wheels of a luxurious car working very well, but operating largely because of the interior engineering. Ballon D’or often forgets this, allowing fans to disperse flawed arguments.
All this context to the award makes Jorginho’s strange and yet believable candidature even more intriguing. Although the Chelsea playmaker saw his penalty saved by a familiar foe in the UEFA Euro 2020 Final against England on Sunday, he had put down another complete performance. And it wasn’t just about his passing altogether. It was about how he pushed up, made cunning fouls and helped Italy stop England from creating during transitions.
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The 29-year-old has had a terrific year – helping Chelsea win the Champions League while being crucial to Thomas Tuchel’s double pivot. His usage seemed more substantial under the German tactician than it ever did under Frank Lampard. His ability to break down the opposition lines or play over those lines helped Chelsea become a transition-based side with little space in between but about four players expanding the length and breadth of the pitch. Jorginho has always N’Golo Kante around him – similar to what he had in Nicolò Barella for the Azzurri. After all, Jorginho’s technical ability and eye to spot the right pass are exceptional. Thanks to his qualities, he creates some of the best midfield partnerships in Europe, both at a club and an international level.
At the end of the day, Ballon D’or is governed by the tangibles, not the intangibles. If the tangibles co-relate to the trophies won, it is even better. However, the award is also often based on how popular the player is and how much buzz his name generates on social media. Jorginho will never be one of those. The Brazil-born regista is a player who operates amidst the intangibles and in the shadows, silently setting the whole tone. As his former coach Maurizio Sarri said a few days ago: “One would think he does nothing extraordinary, but if you watch him closely during a game, you will notice his mistakes are sporadic.”
That says it all about Jorginho. A player who was really underestimated both at Chelsea and Napoli, but while the Partenopei are still struggling to find his replacement, many Blues fans have now understood how crucial the Italy international is. Jorginho embodies what defensive midfielders are meant to be: operate in the shadows, so no one notices them. But they can control the whole pitch from the darkness. That is what Jorginho is and those who’ve watched him from his time in Serie A know how good he is.
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Take a defensive midfielder out of a team, the side will collapse in an attacking and a defensive sense. That’s the value of a defensive midfielder, as the others go about doing their job in a fancy way. It’s how a machine works – some parts go unrecognised but never crave that attention.
Jorginho winning the Ballon D’or may or may not make sense, but sadly enough, it’s hard to imagine him win the award at the end of the year. Don’t forget Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Robert Lewandowski are still around and the Argentinean finally managed to put his hands on an international trophy with Argentina. Generally, they have the awards and the buzz in their names. They fill all the brackets. Jorginho fills just one, which should not be underestimated. He won the most important trophies in 2020-21.
“I want to be honest, it depends on the [Ballon d’Or] criteria. If they base their decision on titles, nobody has won more than me this season,” Jorginho told a Brazilian TV, when asked if he should be a Ballon d’Or winner.
“However, if we talk about talent, I am aware I am not the best in the world. Leo Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar have different characteristics.”
It is the harsh truth of this flawed award, but it shouldn’t undermine Jorginho’s value at all. He’s established himself as a hero, both in London and in Italy, and he’ll continue to work in silence like he always has. The work of a defensive midfielder or a regista can’t be equated to what anyone else does on the pitch. They don’t need fancy awards for people to realise their importance.
So let’s just let them be. Comparing them to players of other positions will do them injustice anyway. They’ll lose their uniqueness and value amidst all the strange debates and arguments surrounding the flawed Ballon D’or. They don’t need it.