Chelsea Star Jorginho Denies Getting Special Treatment From Sarri

Jorginho abandons Italian and breaks into English only once but, when he does, it is born of exasperation. The prickly subject of his close relationship with Maurizio Sarri has been raised and with it the notion he is untouchable: that his is the first name on the Chelsea team sheet, as the manager’s lieutenant out on the pitch, charged with delivering the utopia of Sarriball. He is the golden boy who can do no wrong.

He listens to the cliched assumptions as they are relayed in translation, mustering a grim chuckle of disbelief before something snaps. “But I’m not special,” he says, interrupting the interpreter and tapping the desk to labour his point. “I’m a normal player. Like all the other players. I don’t want to be special. It’s good … no, it’s perfect to be the same as everyone else. I don’t want to be a special one.” Which, of course, makes for a break from the norm in these parts.

Jorginho needs no reminding he has still to convince Chelsea fans that he can impose himself on the Premier League. “The fans are entitled to have their opinion, to be supporters and think whatever they like,” he says. “It also gives me strength to work more to change their views on me. Even if they think I am Sarri’s man, I want to show them why Sarri likes me, that I am a good player and they are wrong to have that attitude towards me.

“But I have never had any doubts. I believe in myself. I know how hard I am working and how much effort I am putting in. So, while I accept [the critics’] views, I don’t share them. I respect their opinion, I listen, I stay calm and work hard, trying to do better. I knew it was going to be a hard challenge over here. I knew it was going to be very tough, so I am comfortable with that and I am learning from my mistakes.”

Jorginho is hardly the first player to arrive in the Premier League and find the helter-skelter somewhat overwhelming. Only four players have run further than his 310.77km in the top flight this season but he suffers at Chelsea for lacking the dynamism of Michael Essien or N’Golo Kanté, the World Cup-winner whose holding role he has assumed. He scuttles rather than dominates, forever demanding the ball and invariably shifting it on quickly and closely.

There has been no evidence as yet of explosive quality, with his attributes more subtle. No one can match his 2,162 successful passes, or the 1,229 he has delivered in his opponents’ half. But, if 542 have still found their way to a teammate in the final third, he was tainted with the aimless side-to-side plod to which the team’s style descended when confidence drained.

That he personifies how Sarri is seeking to play is inescapable, which has left him fending off those claims of favouritism. The pair had arrived in tandem – so complicated had negotiations been with the Napoli president, Aurelio De Laurentiis, that the £57m fee for the player effectively ended up incorporating the compensation due for the coach – as if they come as a package.

When Sarri suffers, as he has through much of the winter, Jorginho is the on-field scapegoat. When opponents have shut down the midfielder, a suffocation first expertly instigated by Everton in the late autumn but replicated by most since, the manager’s tactical approach looks one-dimensional. Even flawed.

Jorginho has been surprised at the aggressive man-marking he has endured – Fulham opted against stifling his talent and, given time and space, he duly dictated – but retains faith in a philosophy that made waves at Napoli. He shares Sarri’s desperation to make it work.

“It is up to me to do better, even when I am tightly marked, but I believe Sarri’s football can work in England. It is a style of play which is highly organised, which is entertaining for the fans, a style which requires us to have a lot of possession and allows us to control and win games. It is normal for it to take time for everyone to learn what they should be doing. Pep Guardiola also had problems in his first year, so why shouldn’t Sarri have problems as well?

“Look, I have a completely normal relationship with Sarri. I don’t go out for dinner with him. I don’t go round to his house. Our work is very professional: he speaks and explains what he wants me to do, and I try to implement what he wants on the pitch. I am just a player who can help him do the things he wants his team to do. He’s shouted at me when I’ve got things wrong, just as he has everyone else. I certainly don’t consider myself to be his golden boy.”

Sarri, in turn, is not even the most influential coach in Jorginho’s life. That honour befalls his mother Maria Tereza Freitas, a former No 10 in amateur football in the Brazilian state of Santa Catarina, who had drilled technique into the four-year-old Jorge Luiz Frello Filho on the beach in Imbituba. Maria Tereza brought up Jorginho and his older sister, Fernanda, as a single parent and, despite her son departing for Hellas Verona’s academy at the age of 15, the family remain tightknit.

“She was a good player, better than my dad, although he helped me in different ways. But she was the one taking me to the beach, coaching me on my technique, lots of short passes, changing direction, when I was small. She took those sessions so seriously and would get upset with me if I made mistakes.”

It had also been Jorginho’s mother who convinced him to opt for Chelsea ahead of Guardiola’s Manchester City last summer, enticed by “a wonderful history” in London. When she visited Stamford Bridge and saw her son’s name on the shirts in the club shop, she was overcome. “She realised I had reached a level that had always been a dream for her, for me and for all of our family. We have spoken a lot about everything that has happened since and she always tells me to keep calm and to work hard. I have to be ready for the lows because you have to be strong enough to climb back up to the highs.

“I’ve had tough times before. Leaving Brazil when I was so young, saying goodbye to my family and friends to go to another culture, that was so difficult. Coming here from Italy was difficult too but I have more experience. I have my own family [his second child was born two hours after the 2-0 win over Fulham in December], and a different support network around me.

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“I deal with that pressure as an adult, and I’m better prepared for it. Ultimately, all the fans hope for is that their team wins and that the players give their all. So if you work hard, leave everything out on the pitch and achieve good results, then these are all of the necessary ingredients to make sure you are liked.”

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