As early as last year, LAFC knew they might have a chance to sign Juventus and Italian national team superstar Giorgio Chiellini at some point in the future.
LAFC were – obviously – interested in acquiring perhaps the premier defender in Europe of the last two decades. Chiellini, it turned out, was interested in the idea, too.
Chiellini was out of contract at the end of this year, set to depart Juventus after originally joining in 2005. Nine league titles, five Italian Cups, two UEFA Champions League finals and 561 appearances later, Chiellini was ready for a new challenge.
The Black & Gold entered the race and landed the star, on an 18-month contract without the use of a Designated Player slot, made official and announced this week. His contract will be under Targeted Allocation Money (TAM), and he'll occupy one of LAFC's international roster spots.
“The opportunity to sign a player like Giorgio was something we could not pass up,” co-president and general manager John Thorrington told MLSsoccer.com. “People may think this is atypical for LAFC, but it’s not as if I would have ever said no to Giorgio Chiellini.”
The timeline was accelerated, in part, due to Italy’s surprising failure to qualify for the Qatar 2022 World Cup.
Chiellini was a central figure to the group, just as he has been for the better part of the last two decades. Had Italy qualified for the World Cup, pushed to the winter rather than its traditional place in the summer, it’s expected he would have stayed at Juventus or elsewhere in Europe at least until the winter.
When Italy’s fate was confirmed, talks between LAFC and Chiellini advanced. LAFC placed the legend on their “discovery list”, meaning they had his priority rights to sign in MLS.
“The conversations were very straightforward,” Thorrington said. “It was around what we felt we needed as a club and what Giorgio’s thoughts were on the next steps of his career. It was very clear early on it wasn’t about finances. It was about a mutual fit.”
Along the way, Chiellini sought to speak with head coach Steve Cherundolo to ensure the fit was right and continue to learn more about the team, tactics and system.
“I had a coach banging my door down saying ‘do whatever you can to make this work’,” Thorrington said of Cherundolo’s desire to add Chiellini to the group.
Chiellini’s insistence to speak with Cherundolo, as well as watch all the team’s games, was yet another confirming data point that revealed his desire to join LAFC was rooted in competitiveness and desire.
LAFC receive interest from aging European-based players all of the time. The club has been deliberate from the start to ensure if and when they added a player in the same stratosphere in terms of reputation and age profile as Chiellini that it would be for the right reasons, not just someone looking for one more paycheck and the Los Angeles lifestyle.
“He’s different, he’s one of a kind,” Thorrington said. “I’ve never come across a player like him, which is kind of my expectation coming in, but he’s even exceeded that.”
In addition to his team success with Juventus, Chiellini was named Serie A Defender of the Year three times and was named to Serie A Team of the Year five times during his time with Juventus. He also led the Italian national team to a European Championship (Euros) last summer.
The Italian legend turns 38 years old in August. By nature, his addition is a win-now move.
LAFC are well-positioned to fight for multiple trophies this year, sitting atop the Supporters’ Shield standings after 14 games. They quickly reloaded under Cherundolo and established a new core around stalwart Carlos Vela.
“I credit the group for where we are now, but we’re certainly not celebrating a third of the way through the season,” Thorrington said. “Does he help us win this season and was this decision made with that in mind? Absolutely. But the ancillary benefit of this, I would not be surprised if five or 10 years from now, we’re still talking about Chiellini’s impact on LAFC.”
Beyond his still sharp on-field quality and "tactical genius", Thorrington spoke often of Chiellini’s leadership and character. That impact will be felt across the club.
That will perhaps most impact rising center back Mamadou Fall. The 19-year-old Senegalese defender earned a starting spot last summer for LAFC, is one of the league’s biggest young talents and is likely destined for a lucrative transfer to Europe at some point over the next few years.
“I think Giorgio coming here will help anybody and I think the most obvious example of that is Mamadou Fall,” Thorrington said. “If you were to tell me that you have a young center back with as much talent and trajectory that Fall is on, and you could pick someone to play alongside him every day to maximize that potential, who would you pick?”
Not only Fall but any young players on the roster, irrespective of position.
"We’ve always been about winning. Part of our model is young players developing and moving on, but Giorgio fits perfectly with that," Thorrington added. "If I could have hand-picked a player in the world to help players develop, it’s him.”
Chiellini will be here soon and, in less than a month, will be eligible to debut July 8 in an El Trafico rivalry matchup against LA Galaxy.
“For a guy who has seen and done everything there is to do – literally – in this game, you can sense his excitement in getting here,” Thorrington said. “He’s in a rush to get here – a guy who played in an Italian Cup final, who just played his last game for Italy yet can’t wait to get here.”
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