Giorgio Chiellini, the lovable 37-year-old center back who is a throwback to eras prior, has now officially played his last game for his club of the last 17 years, Juventus, and the country he has represented for nearly as long, Italy.
To mark the occasion of King Kong walking out that door, we just so happened to get in contact with a friend of the blog who was in attendance for both farewell Chiellini has had over the last couple of weeks, first against Lazio and then Argentina.
Everybody, say hello to Weston Pagano!
Weston, to the envy of many, was at Allianz Stadium for Chiellini’s last home game as a Juventus player last month AND at Wembley as Italy faced Argentina in the Finalissima earlier this week. Because Weston is good people, he decided to share his thoughts on Chiellini and being there to witness the final farewell(s) for such a club legend.
You can follow Weston on Twitter @westonpagano for his thoughts on Juventus and other things that might also include his adventures through Europe, living in New York and trying to avoid Brooklyn hipsters. Or maybe hanging out with Brooklyn hipsters, who knows.
As if by sacrificial ritual, Giorgio Chiellini’s blood anointed Wembley Stadium when his head cracked open while captaining the Italian Under-21s at the ground’s debut match in 2007.
Fourteen years later, his international career peaked when, returning with the senior armband, he came full circle to lift last summer’s Euro trophy.
On Wednesday, Wembley played host to yet another historic moment for the defensive giant when the Finalissima served as his victory lap farewell to calcio.
King Kong, as the Juventus stalwart is affectionately known, has always been as easily recognized by his imposing figure as his imperial talent. Not unlike the statues of the peninsula’s more ancient leaders, Chellini’s iconic aquiline nose is often broken (it’s happened 3-5 times, depending on the source). Instead of a laurel wreath, his crown is a red-stained bandage.
So it seems fitting that he bled one last time during his final match in Bianconeri colors at Fiorentina to close out the 2021-22 season. But at his formal curtain call in Turin days before that, only tears were spilled.
As an American who’s watched Chiello play for club and country from afar for the last decade and a half (longer than I’ve known many of my closest friends!), it was especially moving to attend both send-offs in person.
Grazie di tutto Chiello e Paulo. We’ll miss you pic.twitter.com/pfcp5fg0iY— weston (@westonpagano) May 16, 2022
In the otherwise-meaningless clash with Lazio at Juventus Stadium, our captain was given a proper standing ovation as he came off 17 minutes in — one for each year with the club. Against Argentina for La Nazionale, he was quietly subbed off out of view at halftime, an underwhelming letdown perhaps forced for tactical reasons with a (also somewhat-meaningless) trophy on the line.
But in both cases, we still saw glimpses of what made the Tuscan center back so admired for so long, with his crunching tackles and expert positioning usually compensating for the lack of pace that comes with the lengthening years and injury layoffs. No longer separated by either screen or ocean, the feeling of each duel won was heightened by the energy of a crowd soaking up the final moments.
Far from a mere brute, Chiellini will be remembered for truly mastering the art of defending — Jose Mourinho famously once said he could teach a class on it. While simultaneously maintaining his relentless footballing schedule, the brains behind the brawn instead earned a degree in economics and commerce, reportedly in preparation for a role with Juve’s upper management that will follow a now finally confirmed sunset at LAFC.
At Wembley on Wednesday night, wearing his No. 3 on my back, I reflected on the fickle luck of timing. I tried to imagine this same team, this same space, 12 months earlier as Giorgio led Italy to the European Championship, a cup the pandemic had postponed a year. Rumored to be near-finished after tearing his ACL two games into the 2019-20 season, it could be argued the extra recovery time afforded by this delay gave Chiellini the strength he needed to win.
Yet, in the shadow of another failed World Cup qualification campaign, there was the lingering disappointment of this being the end at all. For such a world class talent, it’s shocking that Giorgio never played in a knockout round of the game’s flagship tournament. December should’ve brought his first, and it would’ve made for a more fitting farewell.
But such is the reality of his place in Azzurri history — emerging on the scene immediately after Italy’s 2006 World Cup success, Giorgio was a rare constant for a nation that’s often felt as if it’s listlessly navigating some stage of transition ever since, even amidst last summer’s unexpected triumph.
Compare to his career with Juve — as one of the five loyal legends to stay with the Old Lady following her ignominious relegation also in 2006, Chiellini went on to be instrumental in the record-smashing decade straight of silverware. Not just vital, he was the sole player present through it all.
And so, back at Juventus Stadium, I couldn’t help but tear up as we said ciao to the very last member of the generation of players that made me fall in love with the sport. When we look back years later, we’ll remember that, for all its ups and downs, we were lucky to have watched calcio during the time of Giorgio Chiellini.