It wasn’t until a few days ago that I realized just how long Giorgio Chiellini has been a Juventus player. That is no joke, that is no lie. It took Chiellini to announce he was leaving Juve at the end of the 2021-22 season for me to realize that it’s been such a long and winding road in bianconero.
Seventeen years, folks.
Seventeen sometimes long, sometimes incredibly emotional (both good and bad), but ultimately very successful years with Juventus.
It is this coming Monday night that the Juventus faithful in attendance at the Allianz Stadium will say goodbye to Chiellini after he announced following Juve’s Coppa Italia final loss that he was going to leave a year before his current contract comes to an end. It is not a surprise knowing Chiellini’s age (37 years old), his injury history over the last few years (lengthy), there being Italy in the World Cup (dammit) and rumors of him potentially wanting to play abroad — most notably in the United States — before hanging his cleats up for good and potentially taking a position in Juve’s front office. (Remember, the econ nerd will forever be the econ nerd with a very fancy business degree from the University of Turin.)
Chiellini, along with Paulo Dybala who himself will be playing his final home game at Allianz Stadium, will get a fond farewell before, during and after Juventus’ match against Lazio and former manager Maurizio Sarri. Chiellini, Juve’s captain since 2018 when Gigi Buffon decided to take a year-long trip over to Paris, will get the Lap of Honor that he most certainly deserves. He will be cheered so often you’ll probably lose count of the amount of times that it happens.
It will be a celebration of Chiellini’s Juventus career to cap a season that has had plenty of trying times and disappointing results.
Chiellini has been at the center of pretty much all of Juventus’ success over the last decade-plus. And during that time, he’s been the on-field emotional heartbeat that has played with the kind of physicality and grinta that we could only dream of. All the while, as I have also thought of plenty over the last few days, has done so while pretty much not looking like he’s aged at all.
See for yourself ...
These images, the first one during Juve’s season in Serie B and the second from the Coppa Italia final just a few days ago, were taken 16 years apart. And if you were to tell me that they were just a couple of weeks apart I would probably believe you. There’s a little more receding of the hairline, a bald spot you can’t see and more of a beard now than in 2006, but that’s pretty much it. Giorgio Chiellini has looked like he’s in his late-30s ever since he was in his early-20s, and for that we love him.
We also love him because of what kind of player he showed to be, the kind of personality he is and what he has meant to Juventus — on and off the field — over those 17 years, especially during his rise to one of the world’s best and Juve’s decade-long era of domestic dominance.
His rise to one of the best center backs in the world wasn’t routine. He wasn’t the big-money signing from another club like, say, Matthijs de Ligt. Remember, it was Claudio Ranieri who moved him to the center of Juve’s defense during their first season back in Serie A because of injuries and a struggling and inexperienced Domenico Criscito couldn’t hang.
His game went to the next level just as Antonio Conte showed up back in Turin and introduced everybody to a full-time 3-5-2 formation and the BBC defense. It was the perfect compliment of defenders — Chiellini was the muscle, Leonardo Bonucci was the modern center back who could pass as well as he defended and Andrea Barzagli was the graceful and technically sound defender who could make the key tackle whenever needed.
Now, there’s only one left in Bonucci, who is 35 years old.
Chiellini became one of the most beloved players at Juventus over his near-two decades with the club because of being damn good at his job, sure, but also because of how he did it. There were the crunching tackles, the random runs into the midfield and attack as his awkward limbs went all over the place, the celebrating a clearance like it was a game-winning goal, the bandages wrapped around his head and what that unofficially signified — there were so many things about Chiellini to just totally love.
And we did. We’ve loved him for so many years. We will continue to love him.
It’s impossible not to. He’s the economics nerd who just so happened to quickly prove himself to be one of the best defenders in the world when he moved to the center of Juve’s defense. And, on top of that, he’s an old-school kind of defender who embraced physicality and made so many crunching tackles during a time in which the game in Italy (and Europe as a whole) was clearly shifting from a much more defensive product to one that is now one of the more highest-scoring of Europe’s major five leagues. (Outside of a few clubs, Juventus being one of those.)
He was a leader even before he officially wore the captain’s armband full time, and even then he wasn’t totally wearing it all the time because of all the injuries that he has dealt with the last few years.
No matter what, Chiellini will take his Lap of Honor on Monday night and there will be shots of people having the same kind of reaction as when Alessandro Del Piero left, when Buffon left, when Barzagli left and others departed from the most dominant era Serie A has ever seen. It will get dusty from wherever you are watching, and it will be one of the few things worth remembering during a game that, in the big picture, doesn’t mean much results-wise.
This day has been 17 years in the making, even though we probably didn’t know it was going to be like this in 2009 or 2010. It’s our day to say farewell to Chiellini the player, but it’s pretty safe to assume that Chiellini the person is not done with Juventus. It’s impossible to think that a front office role isn’t in his future no matter how much time he spends in the United States finishing off his career.
And with the background he has, you have to think he’s got the chance to be pretty good at that, too.