Bruising Chiellini's tough exterior hides a softer centre
By Brian Homewood
REUTERS - When Britain's voters sent shockwaves through the continent last week by voting to leave the European Union, most footballers who were asked about it shrugged their shoulders and said it was nothing to do with them.
England's Harry Kane said he and his team mates did not know enough to comment and they would have to "wait and see", while Spain's Nolito wondered whether "Brexit" was the name of a dance.
But when Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini was asked for an opinion, he gave a thoughtful response which might have put many politicians to shame.
"I fear the domino effect after the initial shock," he said. "And what will happen if all the countries, from now on, start holding referendums where they vote to leave?
"After all the effort that was made to create a union, this is a symptom of discontent which is felt everywhere and leads to a vote for change, even when there is no programme or logic. It's a very bad sign that has come from the UK."
Chiellini, famously bitten by Uruguay forward Luis Suarez during a 2014 World Cup match, comes across as a typically bruising centre back but off the field, the Italy defender is a quiet and dignified figure.
On the field, he is the key component in the so-called three-man BBC defence alongside Andrea Barzagli and Leonardo Bonucci who play together both for Italy and Juventus.
The trio have now been together for five years at Juventus, winning five successive Serie A league titles.
“I go hunting for my opponents high up the field, and I put stock in physical one-on-ones and winning individual duels," Chiellini told the Guardian in an interview.
Sweden forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic tends to agree. "He doesn’t leave you any space. He doesn’t let you breathe,” he said.
Chiellini also gets forward and scores goals, including the first in the 2-0 win against Spain which took Italy into Saturday's quarter-final against Germany.
But away from the pitch, Chiellini, who has played under four different Italy coaches, is a changed personality.
He has a degree in economics and commerce and his official website lists his academic qualifications above his playing career. He had considered studying medicine but said it would have taken up too much time.
It was typical of him to forgive Suarez for the biting incident, saying that the Uruguayan's ban, of four months plus nine international matches, was too harsh.
"Inside me there are no feelings of joy, revenge or anger against Suarez for an incident that happened on the pitch and that's done," said Chiellini.
"I sincerely hope that he will be allowed to stay close to his team mates during the games because such a ban is really alienating for a player."
Sweden midfielder Albin Ekdal told how he saw both sides of Chiellini when they played together at Juventus.
"He treated me not so much as a little brother but as a youth player when I got there. He drove me to training when I did not have a driving license," he said.
But on the pitch, Chiellini was a "swine", Ekdal said.
"He knows that himself but every team needs a player like that," Ekdal added. "He likes to play-act and influence the referees. It's classic Italian stuff."
(Writing by Brian Homewood in Paris; Editing by Toby Davis)