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Ballon D'Or

'Jorginho was only being paid €20-a-week' - How the Chelsea star overcame adversity to become a Ballon d'Or contender

12:00 EAT 29/11/2021
Jorginho Hellas Verona Chelsea GFX
The Italy international was taken advantage off as a youngster at Hellas Verona, but could now find himself on the podium for 2021's best footballer

As the football world holds it breath to find out who will claim the 2021 Ballon d'Or at Monday's ceremony in Paris, it now seems inevitable that either Robert Lewandowski or Lionel Messi will be named the best men's player of the past 12 months.

The third place on the podium, though, is up for grabs, with the likes of N'Golo Kante, Karim Benzema, Kylian Mbappe and Cristiano Ronaldo all in the running for a top-three finish.

One of the more divisive figures in that race is Chelsea star Jorginho, whom you would have got massively long odds on being in the Ballon d'Or conversation at the start of the year.

Booed by Blues supporters who nicknamed him 'Maurizio Sarri's son' during his first couple of seasons at Stamford Bridge, some players might have gone into their shell and looked for a move away sooner rather than later.

Jorginho, though, is no stranger to adversity, and the difficulties he faced earlier in his career have hardened him to the point where he was able to bounce back and play a key role for Chelsea as they won the Champions League last season, before playing a similarly pivotal part in Italy's triumph at Euro 2020.

Those successes saw the 29-year-old crowned the UEFA Men's Player of the Year in September, and there is now a real possibility that his unmatched haul of silverware from 2021 will see him recognised by the Ballon d'Or voting panel too, even if he does come up short in terms of the overall winner.

That is some journey for a player who arrived in Italy as a 15-year-old looking to make a career for himself after a difficult time at a football camp in the country of his birth, Brazil.

Able to gain Italian citizenship through his paternal great-grandfather, Jorginho lived in a monastery with six other boys when he was first enrolled into the Hellas Verona academy, though it soon became clear that he was being exploited by his first agent.

Jorginho has previously spoken to The Players' Tribune about his struggles with money as a teenager, saying: "I’d go to the main square in Verona and buy a milkshake at McDonald’s. It cost one euro. Fries? Burger? Forget it, man! Happy Meals were for the rich kids."

It turned out he was being paid just €20-a-week, with team-mate Rafael soon volunteering to drive him to and from training before realising the midfielder's financial situation was even dire than even he realised.

"When I met him in Verona, it was when he came into the first team to train from the youth team," goalkeeper Rafael, who has remained a lifelong friend of Jorginho's, tells GOAL. "I spoke with him because I discovered he was from Brazil with an Italian passport.

"I started to take him home after training to the convent where he lived. Every day I did this for him because I lived in the city centre. He spoke to me about his family, life and school. He was in school here and training afterwards.

"He told me he was only paid €20-a-week to live here, and for me it wasn't a good situation. He was young, he was a talent and I think it wasn't right to only pay him that.

"At that moment, I spoke to the club to find out what was going on with his situation. If the club wanted him, they should give him a contract, but if they don't want him then let him go to another club, because that amount of money wasn't right.

"The club told me that they believed in him and had a contract waiting for him all along. It was on the table, but they thought that he wasn't told about it by his former representative.

"Afterwards, he got that first professional contract. I had to speak with his family, his old agents and the club because he deserved to sign his contract.

"After this, he bought a house for his parents and a car to have his own way of becoming a soccer player. It was impossible to be a player on €20-a-week."

Ten years older than Jorginho, Rafael may have started out as the Italy international's mentor, but the pair's relationship has morphed into one that more resembles brotherly love.

The Chelsea star invites Rafael to all his biggest games, and made sure to celebrate his various trophy wins, including this year's Champions League, with the veteran shot-stopper.

"He is my brother, not with blood, but through our friendship," Rafael says. "For me, it was a good experience to see him win. He has won everything this year. He is the midfielder and the brains of his teams."

And what about his great friend's Ballon d'Or chances?

"Every coach that works with him talks about how important he is to their team," he responds. "It is normal [that he is being talked about for Ballon d'Or] because he wins a lot.

"He is very different from other players, taught to play by his mum rather than his father, he came from a difficult situation as a child in Brazil.

"These are the things I think about when he wins all these titles. He has been a big player in all his teams, writing his history into soccer and his story is inspiring for younger players.

"Lionel Messi, N'Golo Kante, Kevin De Bruyne, Cristiano Ronaldo have won too but, this year, he is up there."