In a way, Giorgio Chiellini’s international career is coming full circle Sunday night.
Chiellini is captain for his club and country and has been so for the last couple of years. He is, undoubtedly, one of the best players of his generation, getting the kind of praise for the way he’s played at Euro 2020 that has been deserved for the last decade or more. He is getting ready to sign what could very well be his last contract as a professional in a matter of days, according to those in the know.
Sunday night’s Euro 2020 final might very well be the last time Chiellini puts on an Italy jersey, leads his team out of the tunnel and belts out the Italian national anthem as he stands next to the referees. It comes at a stadium in London, Wembley, that Chiellini helped christen with one of the more Chiellini moments that there is — a head bandage because he busted his forehead open — against the same England team (albeit it at the Under-21 level) that he will face for the right to win Euro 2020.
Chiellini playing at Wembley, on the day it opened to the public for the very first time, gave us this. Behold ...
Now, you might be telling yourself that this whole post in an excuse to show you that very picture that is right above this portion of text. You’re not wrong. That is exactly why I decided to write something on this very topic and wrap it around Chiellini’s first game at new Wembley. But what that picture is meant to show is both that Chiellini’s international career is back at a place where that picture above took place, but also to show just how much time has passed between that moment and now.
Seriously, that was 14 years ago.
Just think about everything that has happened for Chiellini at the club level with Juventus.
Now think about everything has happened since Chiellini became a regular call-up a couple of months after that picture was snapped and then a fixture in Italy’s starting lineup.
You may notice the Italy jersey the then-22-year-old Chiellini is wearing in that photo. This photo, taken in March 2007, is less than a year after Italy celebrated winning the World Cup. Chiellini, with the Italy Under-21 team, played against England in what would be one of his final appearances for the Azzurrini before becoming a senior team regular.
That can’t be said for a lot of the players who appeared in that game. A lot of them never got the chance to even represent their country at the senior level. A large portion of them, by now, have either retired from the game entirely or are like Chiellini and getting close to retirement within the next couple of years at most. But there is only one guy from that wild 3-3 draw between Italy and England — seriously, a Giampaolo Pazzini hat trick! — that is still playing at the international level. And that is the guy who wore the captain’s armband for Italy that night and will do the same on Sunday.
(Side note: One of Italy’s starting wingers in that game against England? Simone Padoin.)
Over the course of the 14 years from that game until this upcoming one, Chiellini has seen it all — no matter if it’s at the club level or with the Azzurri. The crazy part of it all, he’s seen both his club and his country at the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. It wasn’t that long ago that Chiellini announced his international retirement (along with Gigi Buffon and Andrea Barzagli) after Italy failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. That retirement, of course, didn’t last long because it if did then he wouldn’t be playing in this game today.
But you look at where Italy was after that game and it’s hard to believe it was only in 2017. The country’s national team was at the lowest of low points much in the same kind of fashion that Juve was after a second consecutive seventh-place finish in Serie A in 2010. Italy, like Juve after that infamous season with Gigi Delneri, was a shell of its former self, in need of somebody to get the entire program back on track. Many of the players that were part of some of the best moments over the previous 5-10 years were either on the brink of heading toward international retirement or already there. If there ever was the need for a major shakeup, it was after what happened in 2017 and the fact that the World Cup the next year didn’t have one of the biggest names in the game.
Chiellini has seen coaches come and go with both Juventus and Italy. Some have won, some have done the opposite of that. Some have played good football, others haven’t. But when you look at the club Chiellini plays for and the country he represents, both of them have undergone major reconstruction projects to come back from some of their darkest hours to get to where they one of the best teams around.
It’s been quite the ride for Chiellini to get to this point and have the chance to win a major trophy with Italy. Many thought that a run like this wasn’t possible when he first decided to come back from international retirement and Roberto Mancini was just at the start of his project to get Italy to play the way they are now.
But when Chiellini takes the field at Wembley, the same field where Italy just recorded one of its biggest wins all of a few days ago, it’s impossible not to think of where Italy was when Mancini first took over. but it’s also just as tough to avoid what could happen if Chiellini and Co. play like they can against England on Sunday night. Knowing what Chiellini — as well as Italy as a whole — has seen take place over the last four years (and beyond), lifting the Euro 2020 trophy would be one hell of a way to bookend a 14-year span between appearances against England at Wembley for their hard-nosed captain.
Who knows, we might get Chiellini’s head wrapped in bandages if we’re lucky. You never know, folks, you just never know.