There are always exceptions, but generally the modern footballer is pretty switched on when it comes to media. Under the spotlight they know how to suck it up and say the right thing, even if that means telling a porky or two.
So when Giorgio Chiellini publicly insists he’s happy to share a pre-match hug with Luis Suarez in Berlin this weekend, I’d advise you to take that piece of information with a healthy pinch of salt.
The Juventus hard man may well have forgiven the Uruguyan for sinking teeth into his shoulder at last summer’s World Cup Finals, and there’s a chance he genuinely doesn’t bear the Barca superstar any savage ill feeling, but harmony will be thin on the ground. Take it from me, a professional footballer never, ever forgets.
Living in cloud cuckoo land half the time, you’ll find a lot of players can’t remember how to do their own laundry, pay a bill, book an appointment, or (remarkably in Phil Neville’s case) even know how to make a cup of instant coffee. It’s a weird old bubble.
Yet you’ll struggle to find a footballer that turns down the chance to exact vengeance on a fellow pro that’s upset them. They won’t lose sight of that opportunity. Ever. It’s like they have an in-built sensor.
I was as laid back as they come, but if someone had kicked me off the ball or said something I took exception to, revenge was rarely too far from my mind. Whether it took five minutes or 85 minutes, I’d usually try and get my own back with something sly.
Petty? Completely. But that’s how our minds did (and do) react in the heat of competitive battle. As sad as it is, I still think that way in five-a-sides on a Thursday night down at Shadwell.
I’ve heard tales that some players have patiently waited months, or even years for the right time to discreetly clump a fellow pro who’d upset them.
It might have been something they said or did on the pitch, words spoken in the press, getting off with one of their pals’ girlfriends, or any other manner of serious or trivial misdemeanours. Yet once a grudge is born, for some reason, it’s incredibly hard for a footballer to let it go.
With this in mind don’t expect Chiellini blow any kisses towards Suarez, once they’ve hugged inside the Olympic Stadium on Saturday night. In this their first reunion since he was treated like a blood doll in Natal, you can be sure the 30-year-old Italian will seek his own private piece of reprisal.
Defenders don’t come any more robust than the Juventus man anyway. He’s rugged, irritatingly physical, and world weary in the dark arts of ensuring a clean sheet. That doggedness is partly what got under Suarez’s skin last summer, prior to the infamous moment of snappage.
Chiellini has been rubbing strikers up the wrong way in the famous black and white stripes of Juventus, or Italy’s Azzurri Blue for over a decade. So in this ‘The Old Lady’s” first Champions League final in 12 years (and with the challenge of containing Barcelona’s mega stars whetting the appetite further) you can guarantee he’ll happily ruffle feathers.
If that means flattening his nemesis in full glare of 150 million TV viewers around the globe, the hard-nosed centre-back won’t hesitate. When Suarez comes close he’ll try and rough him up, and see if the South American bites again.
While you have to make Barcelona’s extraordinarily gifted forward line of Suarez, Neymar and Lionel Messi, favourites to light up this glamorous Champions League final, Max Allegri’s men aren’t the type to buckle.
If a barricade needs erecting, Chiellini, Christian Bonucci, Andrea Barzagli, Gigi Buffon, Patrice Evra and Stephan Lichsteiner are your go-to guys. If anyone can contain the Catalan magic it’s probably them.
Last June, neither man ended their hostile duel as a winner. Chiellini went home as a first round loser, Suarez in disgrace.
Once the pre-match pleasantries are done and dusted in Berlin, no quarter will be given in the rematch. And although he’s the underdog, I wouldn’t bet against the Italian having the last laugh.