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Giorgio Chiellini retires: How brilliant was the Italian defender?

Giorgio Chiellini has decided to hang up his boots at the age of 39; UEFA.com salutes one of the great defenders of his age.

Giorgio Chiellini after winning EURO 2020 with Italy
Giorgio Chiellini after winning EURO 2020 with Italy UEFA via Getty Images

A UEFA EURO 2020 winner with Italy and a two-time UEFA Champions League runner-up with Juventus, Giorgio Chiellini has retired from football aged 39.

UEFA.com explains how he became one of the most loved (and feared) central defenders in modern football.

Chiellini on making Italy's dream a reality

What they said about Chiellini

"[Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci] are the best central-defensive partnership in world football; we have heard that for many years. Their strength is that they want to prove that every match."
Roberto Mancini, former Italy coach 

"We know each other's game inside out. It comes very naturally. You don't have to think about the other things you normally would when playing with someone else. We can share the workload and it allows us to both be leaders. That is crucial."
Leonardo Bonucci, Italy and Union Berlin defender

"Which defenders gave me the hardest time? There are two: Chiellini and Sergio Ramos. They're both tough and physical. They know all the tricks in the book but always play within the rules. It's difficult but also fun to play against them."
Robert Lewandowski, Poland and Barcelona forward

"He's an amazing defender. My first start for England, probably the first five minutes, he made a challenge and I had a dead leg for about ten minutes. So it was a good welcome.”
Harry Kane, England and Bayern forward

Chiellini stats

International: 117 appearances, 8 goals
UEFA club competition: 92 appearances, 5 goals
Domestic competition: 618 appearances, 39 goals

Chiellini's claims to fame

Chiellini bows out with 'pride and satisfaction'

▪ Chiellini represented Italy at all youth levels, winning the 2003 UEFA European Under-19 Championship and making two appearances at the 2004 Olympics. Chiellini said: "I still remember all the tournaments, all the different events I played, which might not be very well known around the world... but you learn a lot. You can already see the star players of tomorrow."

▪ He came off the bench to make his senior Italy debut in a 1-0 win against Finland on 17 November 2004 and scored his first international goal in a 3-1 success against the Faroe Islands on 21 November 2007.

▪ He helped Italy reach the UEFA EURO 2012 final, despite suffering a thigh injury in the semi-finals. He started the decisive game against Spain but had to be substituted after 21 minutes.

▪ Chiellini formally retired from international football after Italy failed to make it to the 2018 FIFA World Cup finals but was persuaded to return by Roberto Mancini.

▪ He became the oldest player to appear for Italy at a EURO after featuring in the UEFA EURO 2020 opener against Turkey at the age of 36. Chiellini went on to captain the Azzurri to glory as they beat final hosts England on penalties after a 1-1 draw in the decider at Wembley.

▪ He confirmed that the Finalissima meeting with Argentina at Wembley in 2022 would be his last Italy game, explaining: "I'll say goodbye to the national team at Wembley, which is where I experienced the pinnacle of my career winning the EURO. I'd like to say goodbye to the Azzurri with a nice memory." Sadly for the departing icon, it ended with Argentina winning 3-0.

▪ Born in Pisa, Chiellini first linked up with Livorno at the age of six. He made eight league appearances for the club before being sold to Roma in 2002, but he was loaned back to Livorno and the Serie B club secured his permanent return in 2004.

▪ He sparkled as a left-back at Juventus but found his true calling in the 2007/08 season after injuries forced Juve to use him as a central defender. Alongside Andrea Barzagli and Leonardo Bonucci, he would form the club's fabled 'BBC' three-man defence from midway through the 2011/12 season.

▪ Injury forced him to miss Juventus' 3-1 UEFA Champions League final defeat by Barcelona in 2015.

▪ Chiellini became Juventus captain in 2018 after Gianluigi Buffon's departure. During his time at the club, he won nine league titles and five editions of the Coppa Italia. His final game for the club was a Serie A meeting with Fiorentina in May 2022, after which he joined Los Angeles FC – where he lifted the MLS Cup the same year.

Giorgio Chiellini bids farewell after his final Juventus appearance
Giorgio Chiellini bids farewell after his final Juventus appearanceDeFodi Images via Getty Images

What you might not know about Chiellini

▪ Chiellini is married with two daughters. He also has a twin brother, Claudio, and younger siblings Giulio and Silvia.

▪ His idols growing up were AC Milan defender Paolo Maldini and basketball player Kobe Bryant. He actually started playing basketball before he tried football: Livorno is a huge basketball city in Italy.

▪ As a child, Chiellini played for Livorno as a central midfielder and winger before settling to a position as a left-back. He also had a trial spell with AC Milan in 2000, with some surprised the club did not take him on. "He arrived on tiptoes, almost; shy and polite as he is now," said Paolo Sammarco, with whom Chiellini played in Milan colours during a friendly tournament. "He was big and he had superhuman strength, and we were convinced that Milan would sign him."

▪ Italy's then captain Fabio Cannavaro missed UEFA EURO 2008 after he tore ligaments in his left ankle following a collision with Chiellini in training. Chiellini was so upset that Cannavaro had to offer him consolation. "I comforted him," said Cannavaro. "He was broken. I told him that it wasn't his fault. We already lost one player, it's not worth losing a second."

▪ Every parent's dream, Chiellini kept up his studies while playing football. A fluent English speaker, he said of his school in Livorno: "Knowing I was playing and training, my teachers came to me, but I always made an effort, so that made up for all the times I was absent." He gained a degree in Economics and Commerce from the University of Turin (in 2010) and a master's in Business Administration (in 2017).

▪ Uruguay's Luis Suárez was banned from football for four months after biting Chiellini during a crucial 2014 World Cup finals game, which Italy ended up losing. However, the defender was conciliatory towards Suárez afterwards. "I like facing strikers like him," Chiellini said. "I called him a couple of days after the game, but he had no need to apologise to me. I too am a [swear word] on the field and proud of it."

▪ Old friends in Livorno helped Chiellini to come up with his 'King Kong' goal celebration. "I wanted something that summed me up. [Former Inter striker] Adriano did the Hulk so I couldn't copy that, so in the end I went for King Kong.”

▪ After Italy's EURO 2020 triumph, Chiellini published a social media video about the 'Italian Gorilla'. A light-hearted, fake nature documentary, it described its subject as "a species native to Livorno", adding: "The gorilla eats the grass trampled by opponents to taste their fear." The 'Italian Gorilla', it transpires, "is one of the strongest animals in Europe".

▪ Team-mates thought he was more useful than Cristiano Ronaldo – at least in training. In 2018, Juventus forward Federico Bernardeschi was asked whether the players wanted to have CR7 on their small-sided teams during training-ground games. He replied: "It's actually better to have Chiellini."

What Chiellini says

Giorgio Chiellini on loan at Fiorentina in 2004
Giorgio Chiellini on loan at Fiorentina in 2004Getty Images

"I was a Milan fan as a child, but getting older you learn a bit more and I realised that was a mistake."
On his youthful footballing indiscretions

"I was never the best in my age group. I was like the Ugly Duckling because I am not beautiful to look at but I always improved. That is my most significant skill."
On learning his craft

"Winning a challenge, blocking a shot, stopping the opposition from scoring, becoming annoying for opposition strikers because they struggle to get the better of you and score against you."
On his favourite aspects of defending

"I'll never get rid of the headbands I play in. I put them on even when I don't need to. Luckily, I haven't broken my nose in about ten years."
On his trademark headbands

"How do you mark Ronaldo? You try not to leave him alone and don't let him shoot on his right foot. Lionel Messi? You just make the sign of the cross!"
On how to defend against the two greatest forwards of his age

"At the end of the day, it's better to be an unpleasant winner than a nice loser."
On his attitude to football

"Now it is time to start new chapters, face new challenges and write further important and exciting pages of life."
On retiring as a player

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