Regular followers of Serie A may find it hard to believe that Napoli’s Jorginho is still only 23.
The Brazil-born Italian has had a remarkably eventful career for someone so young, with the stylish midfielder now seen gliding across the San Paolo turf already possessing an extensive view of the football world.
Jorginho, or Jorge Luiz Frello Filho if you prefer (which you wouldn't, obviously), made the bold decision to leave Brazil behind and head to the peninsula in 2007 while still in his teens. He joined the Hellas Verona academy and hasn’t looked back since, with his parents no doubt delighted that they put their faith in his ability and moved across the Atlantic eight years ago.
This cultural mix in Jorginho’s personal life is also reflected in his playing style. Many have been quick to compare his measured, ice-cool distribution and game management to the bearded wonder himself, Andrea Pirlo. However, he has also retained an element of samba magic in his play: South American technique combined with Italian tactical nous means Jorginho is an extremely well-rounded player.
Arsenal have been linked with a move for him since his initial breakthrough Serie A season with Hellas in 2013, and if the rumour mill is to be believed, they may submit an offer that Napoli find too good to refuse this January.
Although Jorginho is now an established name in Serie A, the 23-year-old has had to work hard to land the Scudetto-chasing challenge he is currently enjoying with the Partenopei.
In his first senior season, he was sent out on loan to Serie C2 (Italian fourth tier) side Sambonifacese, where he made an instant impact by contributing 10 assists. That was enough to earn him a place in the Verona squad as they attempted to get out of Serie B in 2011/12. The playmaker began the season on the fringes of the first team, but had become a regular fixture by November.
Although the Gialloblu narrowly missed out on promotion that year, the ever-more influential Jorginho was a driving force behind their second-place finish the following season – enough to ensure a return to the top flight.
While the youngster had impressed in his 41 Serie B appearances throughout the promotion campaign, manager Andrea Mandorlini could not have expected him to have quite the impact he did in Serie A.
Jorginho scored seven times in 18 appearances as Hellas stormed back into the top half of the table, with his sensational form enough to earn him a move to Napoli in January 2014. Although many assumed that this almost unheard of talent had dropped out of the sky into Serie A, the midfielder left Verona with 96 appearances to his name, despite having only just turned 22.
Sarri the saviour
Jorginho quickly becoming a regular for the rest of the campaign under Rafael Benitez, but the Italo-Brazilian’s relationship with the Spaniard soon went sour.
The young midfielder struggled for form last year and spent the second half of the season warming the bench. After making only 14 Serie starts, he appeared set for the exit door, with agent Joao Santos admitting that “if Benitez had stayed, he’d probably have left.”
However, the summer arrival of notoriously hard taskmaster Maurizio Sarri has resulted in a mini-renaissance for the playmaker, who has formed an effective partnership with Allan in the middle of the park. Jorginho has enjoyed some masterful moments in the engine room, such as his two-assist display against Club Brugge and the slide-rule pass for Gonzalo Higuain's decisive goal against Udinese on Sunday.
A pass-completion rate of 90% in over 800 minutes of action is no mean feat, and the fact that he has restricted Sarri’s golden child Mirko Valdifiori to a place on the bench speaks volumes for his form.
“Our training sessions are much more intense under Sarri, as we work hard both technically and tactically – last year we focused more on the ball,” he told CalcioNapoli24 earlier this season. Intensity is the name of the game with Sarri, and it seems to be working wonders for the former Hellas man.
Given Jorginho’s happiness at the way his fortunes have turned since the summer, it would seem as though Arsenal would be making their move at the wrong time with a bid in the new year.
His agent Santos, however, has tellingly refused to reject the rumours. “If Napoli receive an irrefutable offer for Jorginho in January then it’s normal that we’d make our assessments,” he told Radio Crc after Gunners scouts were spotted at Napoli’s 0-0 draw away to Genoa.
On top of that, the aforementioned Valdifiori is champing at the bit for more game time, with Omar El Kaddouri and Nathaniel Chalobah also waiting in the wings for a chance. Sarri has plenty of options at his disposal.
Should the north Londoners be successful with an offer, it's easy to see him fitting in well at the Emirates: as well as possessing ability on the ball that Wenger considers essential, the 23-year-old plays in a deeper role and would be a more technically capable, composed figure in front of the defence than Francis Coquelin, Mathieu Flamini or Mikel Arteta.
Jorginho reads the game well, possesses a superb range of passing and is very handy from the penalty spot. The major questions would be about his ability to compete physically in the Premier League and whether he’d be able to adapt to having less time on the ball than in Serie A.
As Arsenal and Napoli battle for Jorginho’s future at club level, Italy and Brazil are doing likewise on the international stage. Despite having been called up to Italy's under-21s, the playmaker has yet to feature for the junior side and was surprisingly left out of Antonio Conte’s most recent senior squad, meaning he’s still up for grabs.
Santos revelaed that Brazil’s team co-ordinator “confessed to me they are following Jorginho’s progress and really like him”. Between London and Naples, the Azzurri and the Selecao, one thing’s for certain: Jorginho is back, and he’s in high demand.
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