After 833 appearances, including 117 wearing the Italy Men’s National Team shirt, and winning 24 major honours, Juventus legend Giorgio Chiellini finally called time on an illustrious career in football that, while now 39 years of age, felt like it still had much to offer.
Beyond the silverware or infamous collar-high foul on Bukayo Saka in the 2020 European Championship final. The nine-time Serie A winner’s charisma and leadership have etched his name into Italian football history, arguably just as much as the formidable force he was on the pitch has. His resilience, passion and infectious spirit continue to endear him to fans worldwide – perhaps except many in England.
Giorgio Chiellini foul on Bakayo Saka
Chiellini announced on social media: “You [football] have been the most beautiful and intense journey of my life. You have been my everything. With you I have travelled a unique and unforgettable path.
“But now it is time to start new chapters, face new challenges and write further important and exciting pages of life.”
In his final message as a professional footballer, Chiellini managed to find the perfect tone, as he had done so many times during his 23-year career.
Giorgio Chiellini the Juventus legend
Although part of the BBC defensive line – alongside Andrea Barzagli and Leonardo Bonucci – that protected Gianluigi Buffon for many years, Chiellini was the only one of the trio that could equal the magnetism of the legendary goalkeeper with charisma that appeared predestined for Hollywood.
With a no-nonsense shaved head and rugged battle-hardened features, he is unlikely to head for the catwalk when considering his next career, but could always light up a room, or pitch, with his mischievous and loveable smile.
The Italian’s lighter side often shines through in media appearances, or when sprinkling post-match interviews with wit and charm, that showcased a desire to lighten the mood in the modern overly-intense world of professional football.
After Juventus overcame a two-goal deficit to knock Tottenham Hotspur out the Champions League‘s last 16 in 2018 in London, a grinning Chiellini summed up the reason for their comeback with “Tottenham… it’s the history of Tottenham,” likely knowing full well he would infuriate the home support, but also have rival fans running to send the soundbite viral across social media channels.
Will Giorgio Chiellini return to Juventus?
That intelligence was also well utilised away from football as Chiellini combined the demands fighting for titles with the Bianconeri with studying for a degree in Economics and Commerce, and then a Master’s in Business Administration; the latter focused on the workings of the Turin club and the football industry.
Now, many expect a position at Juventus will present itself in the future.
Also away from the pitch, the five-time Coppa Italia winner and two-time Champions League finalist won plaudits for taking a hands-on role in a charitable foundation in his name that promoted education and sports for underprivileged children. In 2017, the centre-back was also amongst the first to commit a proportion of his salary to the Common Goal charity still battling today against social inequalities.
Giorgio Chiellini wins Euro 2020
With Buffon as teammate and captain for so long, Chiellini often embodied a leader without a material representation around his bicep and inspired and motivated those around him through a unique blend of passion, determination and humour. All of this created an environment where others could thrive under his guidance.
While wearing the armband, the increased responsibility could not diminish a natural tendency to joke around, though. This was perhaps best seen with the childlike greeting he gave Jordi Alba ahead of a crucial penalty shootout win over Spain in the Euro 2020 semi-final. Lifting the diminutive Spanish skipper skywards with an affectionate hug was an understated contribution towards eventually lifting the trophy, but showed his ability to contextualise everything and demonstrate his understanding of perspective at a moment of incredibly high pressure.
After debuting for the Azzurri in 2004 and becoming such an iconic figure over the next two decades, many incorrectly associate the former Livorno youth with their 2006 World Cup triumph, yet he missed out on the squad to more established players.
But, 15 years later, he could not have had a more influential role, dragging Saka to the floor, helping take England to penalties and lifting the European Championship trophy as captain in one the fitting last acts of a career that provided nothing more, and maybe even a little less, than he deserved.