When Paul Scholes retired there was a collective outcry over England’s persistent neglect of one of the finest midfield talents ever produced on these shores.
Thierry Henry labelled Scholes the best player in Premier League history, Xavi claimed he ‘would have been valued more’ if he was Spanish and Zinedine Zidane named him ‘undoubtedly the greatest midfielder of his generation’.
Our unrelenting love of 4-4-2 meant this genre-defying footballer called it a day with 66 England caps to his name, many of which saw him shunted to the left to make room for Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard.
There’s an accepted wave of thought that if England had Scholes at their disposal again, it would be different this time.
Increased tactical flexibility would see Scholes running the game from a deeper midfield role, with Gerrard and Lampard marauding just in front. Fifty-three years of hurt transforms into two decades of taking the piss.
If only we’d switched from 4-4-2 to 4-3-3 you wouldn’t have been able to move for bumping into a statue of one of England’s fabled Golden Generation.
I call bullshit.
We might like to think that we’re intellectually advanced when compared to our Millennium Bug brethren, but one player this season is showing us all up for the tactical blockheads we still are.
That man is Jorginho. The very mention of his name has Basic Barrys up and down the country turning purple with rage because hE DoEsN’t ScOrE aNd He NeVeR AsSiStS aNd He CaN’t EvEn tAcKlE.
True, Jorginho isn’t prolific in front of goal. He has one Chelsea strike to his name, scored against Huddersfield, and has netted once in an Italy shirt this season. He’s also yet to register an assist.
In terms of tackling, only defensive duo Cesar Azpilicueta and Andreas Christensen average more tackles per game this season, while only N’Golo Kante has makes more interceptions per 90.
However, I’m more than willing to accept that Jorginho’s slender stature means defending isn’t necessarily his strong point, especially amidst the hustle and bustle of the Premier League.
Maurizio Sarri didn’t demand Jorginho be brought to Stamford Bridge because of his abilities to put the ball in the back of the net or smash someone into the Matthew Harding Stand with a tackle.
The fact that Jorginho is a regista, as opposed to a traditional defensive midfielder, seems to have gone over most pundits’ heads.
Yes, Kante is arguably the world’s finest defensive midfielder in terms of pure destruction, but he’d look lost if asked to fulfil the role that Jorginho carries out as a deep-lying playmaker in Sarri’s setup.
Ninety percent of what Jorginho does on the football pitch goes unnoticed, which is problematic for an English audience because we’re obsessed with putting midfielders in boxes.
Does he tear about the pitch putting in tackles? Does he score with clinical regularity? Does he provide bundles of assists?. Does his very presence scare the life out of the opposition? For Jorginho it’s none of the above.
Jorginho’s role is to be an option every time a Chelsea player is in trouble. This aspect of the game is crucial to Sarri’s demands to play out of the back.
If Kepa Arrizabalaga doesn’t pass directly to Jorginho then he’ll show for the ball to stop the opposition from shutting Chelsea down at the full-backs. It sounds easy, but every inch of breathing space is prime real estate in a Premier League encounter.
To continually find yourself in space requires a high football IQ and the ability to know when to dart into a free pocket and when to stand still.
Jorginho repeatedly makes his team-mates’ decisions for them with his weight of pass. It’s another often overlooked part of the game which doesn’t always come naturally. Indeed, Atletico Madrid midfielder Saul Niguez once said: “For me to do that, I must be focused and it’s mentally tiring”.
Saul was taking about Sergio Busquets on that occasion- another regista who is lazily criticised- but the same logic applies to Jorginho.
Jorginho’s composure and willingness to get on the ball regardless of where he is on the pitch can’t be measured with statistics. Yet there will still be people like Rio Ferdinand lining up to berate him because ‘he’s got 2000 passes and no assists’.
English football isn’t yet ready to accept the regista, just as it wasn’t ready to fit Scholes, Gerrard and Lampard into the same midfield.
We didn’t deserve Scholes then, and we don’t deserve Jorginho now.
(Disclaimer: I am in no way comparing Jorginho to Scholes in terms of ability. Even Jorginho’s mum knows that Scholes is/was a better footballer.)
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