This article is an extract from the latest issue of Champions Journal which is available to purchase now.
There was a day this past summer when an alert football fan wandering through one of Verona’s main squares would have seen an unlikely sight – that of a Champions League and EURO 2020-winning footballer perched on a stone step, drinking a McDonald’s milkshake. Hardly an everyday happening at the Piazza Brà. For the footballer in question, Jorginho, it had real significance. It was, as the Chelsea and Italy midfielder explains, a moment to reflect and to remember where he had come from, following a couple of heady months in which he became only the tenth man to win European Cup and EURO finals in the same year.
The worldwide audiences who have watched Jorginho shine for club and country in 2021, earning the UEFA Men’s Player of the Year award in the process, see only the end product, not the early years of rigorous work and sacrifice. The 29-year-old with the milkshake in his hand was remembering the days when that was a weekly treat for his 15-year-old self – a skinny teenager recently arrived in Europe to pursue a dream, reversing the route once taken by his paternal great-grandfather, an Italian emigrant to Brazil.
He takes up the story of his days as a Verona apprentice: “I was training 20 hours a week, at weekends, and I didn’t have any money to do things so there were various times I’d go and buy a €1 milkshake, sit on the steps in the main square in Verona and spend time there people-watching. After the EURO, I was back in Verona for other reasons, and I went there to have a €1 drink and to sit on those steps. After all I’d been through, it was really moving for me – so many things were running through my head. It was really emotional for me, doing that 14 years later.
“I went there when I was 15, and I lived in the academy with youngsters who were playing for the Verona and Chievo youth teams. I was rooming with five other lads. Six of us in one room, and we’d have breakfast, lunch and dinner together.” It was actually an old monastery and, sitting on that step in the square, he likely also remembered “Mr Michele, who was the director” as well as “the cooks, Bruna and Lucia, and the cleaning lady, Gabriella”, who “saw me grow up and helped me so much”.
Another memory which may have surfaced was of the day he called home, weeping and wishing for a plane ticket back to Brazil and his home state of Santa Catarina in the south of the country. By this point, he had spent almost four years away – two of them at an academy in Brazil, followed by his first 18 months in Italy during which he played for Berretti, a local youth team connected with Verona. He had begun training with Verona’s first team but was fed up. His then agent was drip-feeding him a mere €20 a week and life was “just football then school, then football again, then school again and that was all”.
Hence the emotional call made to his mother, Maria Tereza. “I rang home crying a lot and said, ‘I’ve had enough. Football isn’t for me – I want to quit, I want to go home, I just want to play football for fun and that’s that.’ It was then I was fortunate enough to have the family I have, because they said, ‘No, you’re not coming back. You’re so close to making it.’ And, fortunately, they convinced me to not go back.”