Giorgio Chiellini almost brought Rome to tears with the most beautiful homecoming speech
You would run through a wall for Giorgio Chiellini and then you'd ask him where's the next one.
If Italy have the hearts of the world, then they were won four weeks ago when, fittingly, the first game of Euro 2020 was played and Rome was the location. It turned out to be the destination too after a memorable tournament of team-spirit, passion and togetherness but if you'd watched that first game against Turkey, if you'd watched it close enough, you'd already have realised, before a ball was even kicked, that something special was going on here.
It was national anthem time in early June and as Il Canto degli Italiani rung around the capital city, you may have been a long way away in the living room but that doesn't mean you didn't stop and stare. The sound of the stadium pulled you in, the roars from Leonardo Bonucci said it all but it was that closed-eyed smile from Giorgio Chiellini that got you. Here he was, a grizzled old veteran hearing that anthem for what was his 108th time but as a stone face turned to teary smile, it could easily have been his first.
From there to here, Chiellini pulled a hamstring, he's cajoled his teammates from the bench, he's sent Jordi Alba running but the most amazing thing about it is that he's done it all with a playful grin on his face. You're reminded of the penalty shoot-out against Spain when after Manuel Locatelli missed his spot-kick, Chiellini told him everything was going to be okay and held him by the shoulder until it was.
There's the mischief too, in his blatant man-handling of Bukayo Saka but that only adds to the mystique. The cup is in Rome now and to welcome it back, the 36-year-old marked the occasion with the type of powerful speech you always knew he would deliver. First, the team captain paid tribute to his former teammate Davide Astori - a fellow central defender who had 14 caps for Italy and passed away in 2018 after a cardiac arrest - and then to his teammates, their friendships and finally to their compatriot Matteo Berrettini, a man who lost the Wimbledon final to Novak Djokovic but who has given the team countless hours of entertainment and pride as they watched his progress from hotel rooms all over Europe in the last few weeks.
“Dear President," Chiellini began, "allow me to thank you on behalf of myself and the team, your presence was an important gesture. We wanted to dedicate the win to you and the millions of Italians in the world who have never made us feel alone, accompanying us on the journey. We extend the dedication to Davide Astori, we would have liked to have him here with us, he is always present in the thoughts and hearts of those who met him.
"This is a group that has never lost heart, even in difficulties, supporting each other and putting the interest of the team before the individual. If we are here today, it's not only for an extra penalty scored, but because we transformed by sharing our friendship, one of the most beautiful feelings in life. Matteo Berrettini, in recent weeks you made us dream, we cheered as if you were a teammate. Don't stop. This bond made us feel like brothers of Italy, ready for it all and for the call of the country we love."
If ever there was a line worth repeating, then this was it.
"If we are here today, it's not only for an extra penalty scored, but because we transformed by sharing our friendship, one of the most beautiful feelings in life."
Watch the moment in all its Italian glory here.