Giorgio Chiellini is probably not the man you think he is. Nor, indeed, the animal. The Juventus and Italy centre-back has a well‑earned reputation as a footballing bully, brute and brawler. He has broken his nose four times, been sent off five times and pulled opponents’ hair along the way. He pounds his chest with closed fists when he scores and characterises himself on his own website as a cartoon gorilla.
All of which is rather hard to reconcile with the softly spoken master’s student sitting opposite me in a sensible jumper and buttoned-up shirt, telling me how Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s book, The Little Prince, helped his younger self to fall in love with reading.
“It’s true,” he chuckles when I point out the discrepancy between his on- and off-pitch personas. “I met [Álvaro] Morata’s mum the other day, we had a train journey together, and she said the same thing: ‘When I saw you playing I never thought that you would turn out to be so calm and such a sweetie!’ That has always been my character – on the pitch I have a strong temperament, but off the pitch I’m more serene, reflective. I manage to separate out those two things.”