Why Giorgio Chiellini is still a world class centre-back

Chiellini is still one of the best
Chiellini is still one of the best /

This article is part of 90min's Welcome to World Class series.

If you started watching Serie A ten years ago, last season would’ve been the first time you’d have seen a winner other than Juventus. 

Antonio Conte – the man who took Juve to the first title in that record-breaking nine-year run – won the title with Inter last season, breaking Juve’s dominance and stopping them from winning a tenth consecutive Scudetto. 

What was the secret to Juve’s success during those nine seasons?

Any attacking prowess was built upon the rock-solid foundations of the famous 'BBC' defence of Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini and Andrea Barzagli. Gianluigi Buffon was behind them in goal, just on the off chance that formidable backline was breached. 

Yet Chiellini is the only player who has remained at Juve for the entirety of the nine in a row. Buffon went to PSG for a year, Bonucci left to captain Milan – only to return when things didn’t work out – and Barzagli retired in 2019.

Countless players and three different managers have come and gone, but Chiellini, now 37, has been the only constant throughout. 

It was back in 2005 when Chiellini first joined Juventus, and since then he’s notched up almost 550 appearances in a black and white shirt. It might come as a surprise to learn that the club Captain has also scored 36 goals and assisted 24 times during that period, but those are clearly not the stats that he’s known for. 

Chiellini is the man that celebrates tackles, bumping heads with Buffon on countless occasions in the Champions League when the result is on the line. He’s the guy that does what it takes to keep the opposition out, with last-ditch tackles, brave headers and – as England found out in the Euro 2020 final – the odd shirt pull. 

Bukayo Saka, Giorgio Chiellini
Chiellini doing all he can to stop Saka / Laurence Griffiths/GettyImages

How many times have we seen Chiellini with a bloodied head? Or as a smiling assassin playing mind games? Just as he did with Spain’s Jordi Alba before the penalty shoot-out that sent Italy through to the final versus England. 

He’s an old-fashioned warrior. His play isn’t always tidy and it isn’t always 'clean', but you’d always want him on your side rather than on the opposition. 

And now he’s feeling the effects of those immense battles. The times when he’s kept prolific danger-men like Romelu Lukaku and Harry Kane in his back pocket. His recurring calf injury keeps him from playing as much as he’d like, but Juventus are understandably still very keen to have him fit for key Champions League fixtures. 

When Chiellini speaks to the press, he’s softly-spoken, intelligent and polite. He has a bachelor's degree in economics and a masters in business administration. 

“On the pitch I have a strong temperament, but off the pitch I’m more serene, reflective,” Chiellini told the Guardian in 2016. “I manage to separate out those two things.”

Nonetheless, that intelligence comes in handy when it translates into almost perfect positional awareness on the pitch. 

Chiellini is one of those players that fans of almost every club can admire - even if they hope their side can avoid having to face him on the pitch. 

Now, he has a Euro 2020 winner’s medal to accompany those nine Serie A wins. 

Giorgio Chiellini
Chiellini is a leader at Juve / Alessandro Sabattini/GettyImages

How much longer can he continue? We don’t know. 

But there’s no doubt that Giorgio Chiellini has earned the tag 'world class', and his place as one of the world’s best ever defenders.