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Giorgio Chiellini and the Death of the Old School Defender

When Leonardo Bonucci left Juventus this summer, many thought it would lead to the unravelling of the bianconeri’s formidable backline. Eight months on, the Italian giants have not missed a beat and are on course for all their objectives, in large part thanks to the exploits of the underrated Giorgio Chiellini.

In an era where defenders care more about distributing the ball than marking their men, Chiellini’s uncompromising style of play has become a rarity in the modern game. Nowadays, we’re getting to a point where a defender is judged more on his ability to play out of the back than his ability to nullify the opposition. As prices continue to soar for average centre-backs, players like Chiellini are beginning to fade into the background and become undervalued. Consistently in the shadow of his technical superior centre-back partners, the former Livorno man goes about his business without much of a fuss, and frankly, he doesn’t mind having it that way. The thrill of a crucial clearance alone is enough for him to keep lacing his boots, year in, year out.

Having seen many stars come and go through the revolving door over the years, Chiellini has remained a constant at Vinovo, offering himself unselfishly to the black and white cause no questions asked. Unfortunately, his performances haven’t always gotten the plaudits they deserve. Perhaps it’s due to his brutish figure, perhaps it’s his no-nonsense approach to the game, but the bottom line is that his performances have been taken for granted for too long.

With Juventus’s Champions League hopes hanging by a thread at Wembley, Chiellini stepped up and inspired his teammates by example. This time, however, people took note. Down 1-0 against a free-scoring Tottenham side, the Juventus man took it upon himself to mark Harry Kane out of the game. For 90 minutes, Chiellini put his body on the line blocking three shots, making four tackles and amassing an astonishing 13 clearances. You can even argue that his sliding intervention on Son Heung-Min’s pass across goal late in the second half was worth a goal on its own. Destined for Kane, the Englishman was well-positioned to simply tap home, had it not been for Chiellini’s intense man-marking. His celebration after the clearance summed up the enormity of the play. For large parts of the second half, the 33-year-old had both of his hands on the striker’s back or was at least within touching distance of him.

While it was Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain that fired Allegri’s men into the next round with cynical strikes, it was Chiellini’s defending that made their goals worth anything in the tie. His performance against the North London giants was a reminder that defending is not dead, as it has been suggested. The unfortunate reality, however, is that they don’t make them like Chiellini anymore. At 33 years old, the hard-nosed defender has a few more years at the highest level before he calls it a day. Juventus fans and football fans in general would be wise to soak in his brilliance and appreciate his undying passion for defending. After all, Chiellini represents a dying breed; the old-school defender.

Fell in love with the Old Lady of Italian football from a young age. When I'm not writing about the beautiful game, you can find me between the posts yelling at my defenders. Twitter - @GCaltabanis

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