GRAMiorgio Chiellini is having a great time. That was evident long before he arrived smiling at the coin tosses to decide who would go first and which end of the penalty shootout to decide Tuesday’s semi-final against Spain.
We could see it on the rise of the curtain against Turkey, after Chiellini slipped to take the ball from Burak Yilmaz. Italy were 3-0 up in the second minute of stoppage time, but their captain jumped to his feet and shook his fist before high-fiving every teammate within a five-yard radius.
Against Belgium in the quarterfinals, Chiellini and Axel Witsel were scolded by the referee for fighting in a corner. Chiellini responded by wrapping her arms around her opponent like a child showing her parents that they weren’t actually antagonizing her younger brother. The smile on his face was a promise that “we won’t do it again, at least until you look.”
A semi-final at Wembley further fueled the excitement. Even as Italy struggled to break Spain’s oppressive ball monopoly, Chiellini somehow still looked like a man who was living his best life, turning his arms to cheer on fans behind the goal and planting a kiss on the back of Leonardo Bonucci’s head as his Juventus teammate more than doubled in fatigue.
Then came the penalties. Before a coin was tossed, the contrast in the body language of Chiellini and Jordi Alba was striking. The Italian was on the loose and late, jumped up after his Spanish counterpart had already met with the officers and grabbed him by the shoulder to give him an unexpected squeeze.
Alba’s posture was stiff, her smile awkward and laconic. The confusion came when the coin hit the grass for the first time and both players believed they had won the right to decide which end of the stadium the penalty shootout should take place. “You liar!” Chiellini yelled in Italian and Spanish, but he still grinned from ear to ear, giving Alba a shove.
The gesture was visibly despised, but his jovial demeanor disarmed.
all, the officials smiling along with him. The final act, after Italy was confirmed as the winner of that first pitch and a separate one to decide who would shoot first, came in the form of a bear hug. Chiellini squeezed Alba so hard she lifted him off the grass.
Was it all a deliberate psychological ploy? Some in the Spanish media accused Chiellini to humiliate Alba, seven inches shorter and made to look like a doll in her arms. But such ostentatious behavior was probably intended as much to benefit his own colleagues as it was to unsettle his opponents.
Before the Belgium game, Chiellini said that the role of a captain was “minimize”- to decrease and relieve stress at important times for the rest of your team. “There is no need to increase anxiety any more than it already is,” he said. “The adrenaline will come by itself.”
It should come as no surprise that Chiellini thinks a lot about the mental side of the game. He is an academically curious individual who wanted to study medicine at university, but was unable to combine that with a football career and therefore settled for an MBA.
In his biography Lo, Giorgio, Chiellini describes the psychological aspect of anticipating a forward’s thoughts as “the most important part of my game,” but he has always sought to impose himself on opponents. Spaniard Álvaro Morata compared training against him to trying to steal food from a gorilla’s cage, but the great ape’s personality was the defender’s creation, cultivated with a celebration of chest blows and a cartoon image that used to appear on his site. Web.
Teammates have spoken at this tournament about the impact of their example. Chiellini limped out of Italy’s second group match against Switzerland with a thigh injury. Matteo Pessina welcomed his return for the Belgium game. “You know how important it is to us physically and psychologically,” he said. “Get the whole team up.”
The 36-year-old isn’t just there to offer encouragement. In Italy there were concerns about whether his body was ready for this tournament after a season repeatedly interrupted by injury, but he has had a commanding presence, submitting Romelu Lukaku in the quarterfinals and dominating his aerial duels throughout.
If Chiellini has been even more cheerful than usual while doing so, perhaps it is because he knows this tournament could be his last. Even his future at Juventus is not guaranteed, and negotiations continue on a new contract after the previous one expired at the end of June.
He was told last week that he is Italy’s first captain without a club, although it was quickly added that he is in the same position as Lionel Messi. “Yes,” Chiellini said with a smile. “And we are both left-handed too.”
If there is another trait they share, it may be a knack for reassuring teammates simply by their presence. When Jorginho took the decisive penalty in the corner of Unai Simón’s goal on Tuesday, most of Italy’s players rushed forward to celebrate with him. Instead, Chiellini turned to Manuel Locatelli, who had failed his attempt at the start of the shooting. Not for the first time that night, he reached out for a hug. This time, it was warmly reciprocated.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism