LAFC defender Giorgio Chiellini once chose Cristiano Ronaldo over Lionel Messi. The Inter Miami star will be looking to make him rue that decision this weekend.
Inter Miami travels to LAFC in MLS Sunday with two former European soccer titans Messi and Chiellini coming face to face for the first time Stateside.
It of course won’t be the first time the soccer veterans have clashed with the pair playing out many battles on the European and international stages.
Yet, perhaps the former Italian international would prefer it if he was facing Messi’s greatest rival, Ronaldo.
In a quick-fire question round with ESPN last year, the 39-year-old was asked to chose between the two soccer greats and he surely opted for the Portuguese star.
Giorgio Chiellini (left) and Lionel Messi (right) meet for the first time in MLS on Sunday night
The pair have faced each other before, most recently in the 2022 Finalissima at Wembley
However, as a former Juventus teammate Chiellini might have been slightly biased in his choice.
In fact, the defender appears to be full of praise for Messi as he welcomes him to MLS.
Messi has taken MLS by storm, helping Inter Miami clinch its first trophy in the Leagues Cup, setting up a US Open Cup showdown and bagging 11 goals in ten games.
But while US soccer fans – and players – have been left in awe of the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner, it was nothing short of what Chiellini expected.
‘I was not surprised,’ the Italian recently told reporters when asked about Messi’s fast start to life in the US.
‘The problem is maybe this league was surprised, not me. I think they have to do something better to contain Messi.
‘If you think that Messi is a normal player it’s a huge mistake. It means that you’ve never seen him for the last 15 years. If Sergio (Busquets) has the ball and you don’t mark Messi…maybe you don’t have a TV at home.’
He will be hoping he has the answers to containing the Argentine in Los Angeles on Sunday.
The Italian once chose former Juventus teammate Cristiano Ronaldo (left) over Messi
The defender made the move Stateside to join Los Angeles FC in June 2022
Messi and co. will head to Los Angeles in desperate need of win to keep any hope of making the playoffs alive.
But the World Cup and Euros winner once admitted that even he is sometimes at a loss of how to defend the forward.
‘In the last few years the role of the defender has been re-evaluated,’ Chiellini told Eurosport Italia. ‘Everyone has to be good at understanding their role.
‘Experience helps you to read certain situations better and make less mistakes in terms of behavior. Knowledge of the opponent is essential, too, individually as well as the team.
‘How do you mark Cristiano Ronaldo? You try not to leave him alone, don’t let him shoot on his right foot. And Lionel Messi? Just make the sign of the cross.’
His prayers clearly didn’t work when the two last met in the Finalissima in June 2022, when Argentina ran away with a 3-0 win over the Italians at Wembley Stadium in London.
His move to LAFC followed the triumph, with Chiellini confirming his ‘next chapter’ was in MLS and marking his first club outside of Italy after 18 years with Juventus.
A European champion with Italy and a nine-time Serie A winner with Juve, Chiellini joined LAFC, saying the Azzurri’s failure to qualify for last winter’s World Cup in Qatar paved the way to the US.
Messi and Argentina ran away with a 3-0 win over the Italians in the Finalissima
‘I arrived here in order to enjoy this league, discover new things, understand how is soccer now, at what level, in the US And also in order to understand a different view of the sports business and sports here. It’s a huge difference,’ he told the Los Angeles Times.
His last season with the Old Lady marked the first time in a decade that he failed to lift at least one trophy but he rectified that mark on his record last October when he, along with Gareth Bale, helped LAFC to win the MLS Cup.
He played in 11 of LAFC’s final 16 regular-season games, starting nine of them, and appeared in two of the team’s three playoff games as LAFC also lifted the Supporters’ Shield.
But success seemingly isn’t the only thing Chiellini brought to the MLS club, with his joy and energy evident on the field.
‘He takes things very serious, in the gym, to trainings, to the games,’ teammate Kellyn Acosta also told the Los Angeles Times.
‘His energy is huge for us, a guy that’s very vocal. He’s experienced it all from Champions League to World Cups to play at the highest level for so many years. And he’s continuing to play at a high level.
‘Player, coach, mentor, brother, friend. He does it all.’
But the Juve stalwart left more than a mark on Europe – just ask Bukayo Saka.
Chiellini and LAFC lifted the MLS Cup and Supporters’ Shield last season
Chiellini left England fans furious when he pulled Saka down as the Arsenal star tried to race into the final third during the 2020 Euros final before Italy got the better of the Three Lions on penalties.
He also claimed he put a curse on Saka before he missed the decisive penalty in the Euro 2020 penalty.
It summed Chiellini up as a player. While a smiling figure off the field, he is a wily, old-school defender who do almost anything to defend his goal.
He is always prepared to throw his body into harm’s way for the sake of his team and has broken his nose an eye-watering five times in the line of duty.
Chiellini yanked Saka to the ground as he tried to launch a counter-attack at Wembley
Often resembling a pantomime villain with his gruff on-field persona, in reality, he has a heart of gold that made him the perfect captain for the Azzurri.
Chiellini retired from international soccer last summer after 517 appearances in 22 years, featuring his debut as a teenager.
His resume at domestic level is also impressive to say the least with a record nine Scudetti with Juventus, five Coppa Italia and five Supercoppa Italiana titles.
He has already brought that veni, vidi, vici attitude to LAFC but can he also conquer the GOAT.