This article is part of Football FanCast’s Opinion series, which provides analysis, insight and opinion on any issue within the beautiful game, from Paul Pogba’s haircuts to League Two relegation battles…
The defensive midfield role is humble yet paradoxically integral to the success of any elite football team.
Pep Guardiola’s revered Barcelona side was a well-oiled machine that relied upon a slick, multi-functional cog at its core – Sergio Busquets.
Towering at the base of the midfield was a player that held everything together, serving as an omnipresent reminder to his teammates that their overlord was watching over them and providing a shield that could simultaneously end and start an attack with one immaculately timed intervention.
Similarly, at Leeds United, Marcelo Bielsa’s promotion-chasing outfit have become increasingly dependent on Kalvin Phillips, a player who is so popular at Elland Road that he is affectionately and widely referred to as the ‘Yorkshire Pirlo’.
When Maurizio Sarri set foot at Chelsea in the summer of 2018, he scarcely wasted a second in revealing the identity of the player he deemed imperative to the meticulous function of Sarri-ball by completing a £50m deal for Jorginho.
Sarri-ball – or any version of “(insert manager)-ball” for that matter – has since evolved into an enigmatic concept so absorbed by its own pretension and obscurity that uttering it out loud is likely to leave listeners cringing and making compulsive groans of discontent.
But in the formative phase of Sarri’s stint at Stamford Bridge, that terminology was firmly embedded into the narrative surrounding his style, one that depended on Jorginho.
After the deal was completed it was presumed that the former Napoli star thrived in a Sarri system, that his manager was integral to his success on the field and vice-versa. Fixtures passed by and it rapidly became apparent, however, that the fraudulent manager had conspired to give the Serie A outfit a generous parting gift.
Jorginho’s importance to Sarri’s system dictated that he would continue to earn selection regardless of how well he was performing, and to most observers one of Chelsea’s biggest deterrents to success was his loyalty towards his ever-ticking, ever-disappointing metronome.
But the inception of this new era spearheaded by Lampard has laid bare a fallacy that perpetuated across the entirety of the 2018/19 season: Jorginho was not holding back Sarri after all, Sarri was holding back Jorginho.
To the naked eye this has become abundantly clear as the current campaign has progressed.
The statistics also serve to illuminate a major transformation in Jorginho’s output. From a creative perspective, he has already laid on two assists this season – two more than he managed in the entirety of the previous campaign – and is now playing an average of 1.1 key passes per game compared to 0.8 under Sarri, per Whoscored.
The progress does not stop there. Jorginho completes 0.3 more dribbles per game, is fouled once compared to just 0.6 times last season and, finally, he records just 0.4 unsuccessful touches compared to 0.9 last season.
Across the board the numbers reveal he is a markedly better player under Lampard, and the manager deserves esteemed credit for that.
Lampard is more than just a chancer who was in the right place at the right time, sending his young cubs into the Premier League wild by virtue of the club’s transfer ban and achieving a level of success that few envisaged in pre-season.
He is a prodigious tactical thinker who is already proving to be an astute man-manager, one who is capable of prising the best out of a multitude of different players right the way through the spine of his squad.
In the absence of his mentor-in-chief Sarri, Jorginho has provided an example of individual transformation that attests to Lampard’s long-term managerial credentials at the top level.
The £50m player Chelsea fans thought they were signing in 2018 has finally turned up.