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Our rooms were filthy. We ate the same food three times a day.
The showers had no hot water, not even in winter.
Outside, local gangs would try to rob us.
But the worst part was when the cleaning lady stopped working. There’s no pretty way of saying this but, when you go to the toilet, right? And you do number two? Well, at this place, if you threw the paper in the toilet it could get stuck, so you threw it in a bin. But when the bin wasn’t emptied for several weeks, well … yeah, you get the idea.
This was my football camp in Guabiruba, Brazil.
I was living more than 100 miles away from my family.
I was 13 years old, man.
It was like the army. Train twice a day, then study. Fifty players sleeping in bunk beds lined up next to each other. Before I arrived I had been at trials with three clubs in São Paulo, but they had all rejected me, so I went back to my hometown, Imbituba, where this Italian football agent invited me to this camp he was running. He said that the players who did well there had a small chance to go to Italy. What kid doesn’t want to go to Europe, right?
I had been at the camp for a while when the real problems began. One day the cleaning lady quit because she hadn’t been paid, so they split us into groups of five and gave each one a cleaning day. Cheap, sure. But one day a group didn’t bother to clean. So what happened the next day? The second group didn’t bother either. That kept happening for weeks — and the filth just accumulated. The toilets were the worst. You had to hold your breath.
Maybe this will surprise you, but living like that actually became normal to me. Seriously. I learned that humans can adapt to anything, no matter how bad. It’s insane what you can endure when you feel like you have no choice.
When you want something so badly that quitting seems impossible.
You know, when I was five, my dad had asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I said, “A football player.”
He said, “But being a football player is not just the stuff you see on TV. They will hurt you, they will steal from you, they will make you cry. You will want to go home. You will want to give up. Now, what do you want to be when you grow up?”
I said, “A footballer player.”
I was prepared to do anything. But a few weeks after the cleaning lady had quit, my mum came to visit me at the camp. She went to the bathroom. When she came back, she said, “Get your things. We’re going home.”
I said, “Mum, I’m not going.”
She said, “I know this is your dream. But my son is not going to live like this.”
I told her that if she forced me to go home, and I didn’t become a football player, I would blame her for the rest of my life.
She said, “No, wait … please don’t say that….”
Then she began to cry.
I said, “This is my chance. I don’t care what I have to suffer. I can eat the same food for 10 days. I can go to a dirty toilet. This is nothing!”
She just looked at me.
I said, “I’m serious.”
Then she left in tears.
That was one of the hardest moments of my life. You have to understand what this meant to her. She isn’t one of those mums who don’t get football. No, my friend. She’s the one who gave me all my talent. I know Dad gets angry when I say that, but, Dad, you know it’s true!! She’s from a family of footballers, and she plays to this day. When I was five, she would play ball with me on the beach near our house. We would just have fun, and if I made an error, she would say, “Don’t put your foot this way. Do it like this.”
I would do as she said and go, Caramba, she’s right!
She was very strict. If I missed some simple passes, man … she would have a go at me. I would be like, Jeez, I’m only five years old. Haha!
But she wanted the best for me, you know? So it hurt her that I wouldn’t come home. And I saw a lot of talented players leave that camp. They gave up.
I spent two years at that place.
And, thank God, it paid off, because when I was 15 I was signed by Verona. They put me in an old monastery. We were six youth players in a tiny room with three bunk beds. It wasn’t much, but I was so excited.
Italy!! Anything was possible now.
The first three months were great. But then it got heavy, because I had no idea when I would be able to go home. And I was living on 20 euros a week that I was getting from my agent, the same one who had invited me to the camp. I’d always spend it on the same stuff. Five euros to phone my family in Brazil, a few more for shampoo, deodorant and toothpaste. On the weekends I’d spend the rest in an Internet café to chat with friends and family on MSN.
Sometimes when I really wanted a treat, I’d go to the main square in Verona and buy a milkshake at McDonald’s. It cost one euro. Fries? Burger? Forget it, man! Happy Meals were for the rich kids. Then I would sit on a staircase in the corner of the square and just … watch. I’d watch people come and go. I’d watch the birds and the tourists and just let my thoughts wander. That was how I spent my Saturday afternoons.
Fries? Burger? Forget it, man! Happy Meals were for the rich kids.- Jorginho
It was a lonely existence, really. I spent a year and a half like that, just living for football. But when I was 17 and began training with the professionals at Verona, my agent and I had a falling out. I don’t want to say too much about it, but it was bad. It really left me in pieces.
I had suffered two years in a filthy football camp in Brazil.
I had spent 18 months living on 20 euros a week in Italy.
And now this?
I called my mum, crying. “Mum, I’m done. This is too much for me. I miss you. I’m coming home.” In my head I was already back in Imbituba.
But she said, “The door will be closed.”
I was like, “What?”
She said, “You are not coming home. If you show up at my door, I won’t open.”
I was shocked. Can you imagine your own mother telling you that??
I called my dad. Since they were separated, I thought I could just live with him. But he told me that his door was closed, too.
Then my parents got together and called me up. They said something like, “Jorge, you’re training with the pros, and you want to give up now? After everything you have suffered? It doesn’t make sense. Believe. Move on. Your dream will come true.”
My older sister told me later that after my mum hung up, she broke down in tears.
Thank God, my parents were strong when they had to be.
Luckily, I listened to them. I found a new agent, João Santos, who is still with me today. I also have to thank Rafael, who was a goalkeeper on the team and who is now like a brother to me. When I was on 20 euros a week, he took me to his house and bought me food and clothes. João and Rafael were a huge part of why I broke into the Verona first team in 2011. I’ll never forget what they did for me.
When I moved to Napoli in January 2014, I moved to a very different city. We all know how Neapolitans are, right? Wow!! The passion, man! They treat their players like gods! I couldn’t go to the supermarket. I couldn’t go to the park. No chance!! I’d pull a cap down to my eyes and hide under a hoodie. My dad was saying that I looked like a fugitive!
We all know how Neapolitans are, right? Wow!! The passion, man! They treat their players like gods!- Jorginho
This one time a friend came to visit me on a weekend. We usually played on Sunday, but this time we had played on Saturday and I got the days mixed up. I took him down to the city centre at 5 p.m., and there was traffic like you would not believe. God!! Total chaos. Cars eveeeerywhere.
I was like, Huh, busy for a Monday, eh? Maybe rush hour?
Just to be sure, I asked someone what day it was.
I was like, “NOOOOOOOO!!!”
Then I turned to my friend and said, “Buckle up, man. We’re in God’s hands now.”
We tried to be tactical. I put on my cap and my hoodie, and walked right behind him down a narrow pedestrian street. I said, “Keep walking, do not stop.” We came to Piazza del Plebiscito and hid in the back of a busy bar. It worked. Nobody noticed me.
After a while we were planning to escape in the same way. But once we had stepped outside the bar, guess who grabbed me to ask for a picture? The waiter!!
Man, what a mess! We were outside the bar!! I don’t want to swear, but dammit, man! It would have been so much easier to do the picture inside. I was like, “Bro, you’re kidding. Why didn’t you ask inside?”
He said, “If I ask inside I lose my job.”
I was like, But you can leave the actual bar and you won’t lose your job?? It made no sense!
Then again, Naples rarely does, right? Hahahaha.
Anyway, we were in big danger now, because the square was packed with people. So far only the waiter had seen me, but it had already gotten dark. So guess what happened? The waiter had put the flash on. He clicks the button. SNAP! FLASH! My face lights up.
The entire square turns around and shouts, “JORGINHO!!!”
I tell my friend, “This is gonna be war.”
Everyone began shouting my name. Everyone wanted a photo, even those who didn’t know who I was!! They were like, “PHOTO! PHOTO! HEY, WHO IS IT??” I swear, for each step, I took three photos. And forget about anybody saying please or, “Can I have a photo with you?” Naples isn’t London, man! They were pulling and pushing. I thought we would never make it home. After 30 minutes we had gone down half the street.
Luckily, someone saved me. This huge guy who was a member of one of the organised Napoli fan groups turned up and said, “Hey, let him go home!” He dragged me out of the crowd.
I said, “Thank you so much.”
He said, “But now it’s my turn right?? Let’s take a photo?!”
I said, “Bro, you saved me. Take 10 if you want!”
Naples, man … crazy. But I loved the city. I loved the Neapolitans.
After 4½ years, it was really hard for me to leave.
My start at Chelsea made me miss it even more. We all remember what they were saying, right? I was too slow. I was too weak. I was Sarri’s son. Man, it made me so angry.
But listen, they underestimated me. You see, I’ve had a turbulent start at every club I’ve been with. Every club. It’s incredible. When I came to Verona, nobody wanted me. They sent me on loan to the fourth division. Nobody wanted me there either. But I kept working and I won respect. I went back to Verona and we went up to Serie A. I had a hard year at Napoli, too, and then Sarri came and changed everything. So the Chelsea stuff? Puh! I just used the criticism as fuel. I was thinking, These people are going to be embarrassed.
And now I’m sitting here with a Europa League title and a Champions League title. So to all the critics, I just want to say one thing.
Thank you. Really, thank you all.
The Europa League title was emotional. We were celebrating the title at a hotel in Baku with our families when I lost track of my mum. When I found her, she was alone on a balcony where you could see the sea and the city. It was five in the morning, the sun was rising and we had this sensational view.
I said, “Mum, are you crying?
She said, “This is just joy.”
To all the critics, I just want to say one thing. Thank you. Really, thank you all.- Jorginho
Then she began talking about how far I had come, how proud my family was, how incredible it was that this kid from Imbituba had achieved so many things. She always gets emotional, you know? So at the start I was like, Typical Mum. But when she was finished, I was cracking up.
I said, “Hey, I don’t want to start crying too. Let’s just go back.”
She was right, of course. What had happened really was incredible.
On the day of the Champions League final, I didn’t eat. I was too anxious. Each second felt like an hour. Man, it was the longest day of my life.
But when the game starts, you just think about what you have to do.
Then Kai scores, the ref blows the final whistle and you’re like, What’s going on?
There is no way to explain it. You get so many emotions all at once. I broke down crying, just like my mother. It was too much, bro … too much.
And I never even had the time to comprehend it, because soon I was off to the Euros.
Playing for Italy is so special to me. Choosing Italy was easy. Brazil never gave me the chance to fulfil my dream. Italy chose me to play for them, even though I was born in another country. That is a huge deal to me. Also, my great grandfather was Italian, which is what enabled me to play for Italy. I feel Italian. I have spent almost half my life here. Each day I love this country more and more.
And I’ll never forget that, when I needed help, Italy helped me.
So how could I turn my back when Italy needed me?
I have to be honest, though: I was hurt that I never got called up to the World Cup group qualifiers. When I finally got a chance to play, in November 2017, and we lost the playoff to Sweden, it was really heavy. I remember Buffon crying. He deserved a much better farewell than that.
Thankfully we got back on our feet again. Huge credit to Mancini. Some coaches force the players to adapt to their preferred style. He adapted his style to the players. He saw that we weren’t very physical, but that we could pass and move. We could play. I’ve got to say that it turned out pretty well.
I was confident about taking a penalty in the final. I had my own way of doing it, right? It’s a trick I began using when I was playing around in training with Henrique at Napoli. But Pickford had studied me well, credit to him. When the ball didn’t go in, I was like, No, this isn’t possible … and then I said some things that should not be repeated here.
I’ll never forget that, when I needed help, Italy helped me. So how could I turn my back when Italy needed me?- Jorginho
It is hard to describe what it feels like to let down an entire nation. I just prayed that Gigio would save me. For God’s sake, come on.
When he did, I just fell to the ground. I could not believe that we were European champions.
Obviously since we won, my miss didn’t matter. But if I’m honest, it will never leave me. Missing a penalty is bad enough. To do it in a final — and a final like that — believe me: Anyone who says he has forgotten it is lying.
Still, I was incredibly happy. My mum was crying, of course. I felt similar to how I felt after I had won the Champions League. You have a dream, sure, but you never think you can go that far. And when you do, it feels surreal. You think about where you came from and everything you endured.
The football camp.
The calls with your parents.
And now you have conquered Europe? Twice?
Surreal, man. That’s the only word to describe it.
Poor Dad. After the final he told me, “Jorge, you can’t do this to me. I’m gonna have to see a cardiologist.” I hope he was only joking.
Of course, I knew that I would not have been there without him and my mum. I would probably have been back in Imbituba, watching the game on TV. And I just really want to make sure that you understand the importance of my parents here, and also guys like Rafael and João. Sure, this is a story about pursuing your dream until the very end. But it’s also about having good people around you. People who care, who want the best for you.
Man, you can be as good as you want. But I’m telling you: In football, and in life, you cannot make it to the top alone. It’s impossible.
The weeks after the Euros were magical. I spent some time in Verona, where I had not been for a long time, and I visited the monastery. Unfortunately, everyone was on vacation, but it was really emotional to see my home from 14 years earlier. Then I went to the main square, walked into the McDonald’s and bought a milkshake. I sat down on the stairs in the corner, where I had spent so many afternoons as a teenager, and I just … watched.
Then I closed my eyes and went back in time. And it was like I could see my 15-year-old self sitting there next to me. Nobody took any notice of him. Nobody knew about his homesickness or the conversations he was having with his parents.
He was just a shy and skinny kid sipping a one-euro milkshake.
But I knew about all the difficulties he had endured, and about those he was about to endure. So I leaned over and whispered the same thing that I would tell every kid who is chasing a dream.
I said, “Don’t give up, man.”
Whatever happens, don’t give up.