The story of Jorginho over the last three seasons is the story of a footballer’s right foot finding its intended target with a pass over and over again. When it comes to accuracy and consistency in possession, few modern players can hang with the Italian. He is, quite simply, a playmaking supremo, which explains why Manchester City are reportedly so keen on signing him this summer.
Pep Guardiola has re-established dominance of possession as the dominant Premier League tactical narrative since joining Manchester City in 2016. Not only did he lead them to a stunning title win this year, but he set new standards, with records being broken on a constant basis. His side won more games, scored more goals and earned more points than any other team in the history of the English top flight. They also broke the record for the most passes completed in a single game, racking up 902 against Chelsea in March.
However, with Fernandinho, the team’s deep-lying midfielder, turning 33 years old in May, the time has come for Guardiola’s Manchester City to look to the future of their No.6 position. This is where Jorginho would operate, and he has the necessary qualities not only to effectively succeed in the role but to enhance the team’s play in the process.
Born in Brazil, Jorginho moved to Italy at 15 years of age, spending most of his teenage years in the Veneto region, where his great-grandparents hailed from. Through his ancestry, he was able to gain Italian citizenship, but he was overlooked at all levels until he won his first cap for the senior side two years ago. He went under the radar for a long time, partly due to the fact his career began in the country’s lower leagues.
Joining Verona in 2007, he established himself in the first team while they were still in Serie B, after a season-long loan spell with Sambonifacese at the lowest level of Italian professional football. Within three years of his competitive debut for the club, they were in Serie A, and he was asserting himself as the heir to Andrea Pirlo in the eyes of many.
It was in 2013/14, his first season of top-flight Calcio, that the playmaker first caught the attention of the nation for his ability with the ball. Sat comfortably among the league’s top passers, he secured a move to Napoli midway through the campaign and immediately transitioned to his new environment. However, his first full year with the club was less successful.
In an interview with Corriere Dello Sport, he discussed the tactical tweaks that led to his quick decline. “I started well, for six months we had fun. Then in the second year, we changed game principles,” he said. “We started looking for the throws and the second balls. I suffered.”
Rafa Benitez was Napoli’s head coach at the time, and his preferred 4-2-3-1 system didn’t quite fit Jorginho. Gokhan Inler, Walter Gargano and David Lopez were often picked ahead of him, and it seemed likely that he would leave in the summer transfer window of 2015. But, just as Jorginho appeared on his way out, Maurizio Sarri came in and transformed the team’s system and playing style, revitalising the previously overlooked No.6 in the process.
Sarri implemented a method not entirely dissimilar to Guardiola’s in that it prioritised obtaining control of the game through quality build-up. Mirko Valdifiori had been signed from Empoli, following the coach south in the expectation that he would start at the base of his midfield, but he was quickly demoted to the bench. Jorginho came in and went on to become Serie A’s leading passer, completing 102.6 per game at an astounding 90.9 percent accuracy rate. Praising his new coach, he said: “I feel very good with Sarri, he’s a great teacher and I admire his philosophy of the game a lot.”
Jorginho’s numbers haven’t changed much in the two seasons since he made that statement. Indeed, he completed more passes on average than any other Serie A player in both 2016/17 and 2017/18. Along the way, he averaged between 1.5 and two key passes per game – a good record for someone who generally sat between the centre-backs and the outer central midfielders in a 4-3-3 formation.
His efficacy in the deep-lying playmaker role is not simply because of his technique. Along with superb control and pass execution, he is incredibly attentive to what is going on around him. Because of this awareness, he rarely appears troubled by pressure, or by receiving with his back to goal. Like Barcelona’s Sergio Busquets, arguably the finest in the world in the role, he is able to evade his marker through the speed of thought, as opposed to superior mobility or physicality.
Speaking to Roma’s official website, Radja Nainggolan named Jorginho as his toughest opponent, saying: “He always plays in tight situations and passes very close to him. It’s very hard to follow him and stop his plays. You get tired because he moves the ball very fast, but he didn’t even move himself. You need a lot of energy to keep up with him and stop him. It can be hard sometimes.”
Coming from a midfield warrior and pressing machine such as Nainggolan, those words are golden. They highlight just how press resistant Jorginho is, something that would be of real benefit to Guardiola and Manchester City were he to join them.
The player’s agent, Joao Santos, has said that his client “is still under contract, but if Napoli finds an agreement with City then he goes to Manchester.” If the move does transpire, Guardiola will have at his disposal Italy’s answer to Busquets, the ideal No.6 for his system. And Premier League passing records will continue to be broken.