Italy have regularly produced exceptional defenders crucial to the balance of their teams and Giorgio Chiellini is a centre-back from that same rich tradition. A worthy successor to the likes of Paolo Maldini and Fabio Cannavaro, he is adept at marking opponents out of the game and is a dominant presence in the air. Having helped ensure a smooth transition between two generations of talents, the 28-year-old is now nothing short of a linchpin at the back for La Nazionale.  


Born in Pisa but raised in Livorno, Chiellini spent four years training as a left-back at the local club of the town where he spent his childhood. His natural ability soon brought him wider attention and from the age of 16 he began rising through the ranks of Italy's youth teams, notably winning the European U-19 title in 2003.


After signing for Juventus in 2004, he was sent out on loan to Fiorentina, where he made his Serie A debut on 12 September the same year. Two months later, on 17 November, he was rewarded with his first senior cap by Marcello Lippi, making his bow against Finland. Chiellini's career then entered a new phase in 2006/07, when Didier Deschamps gradually began relocating him to the centre of Juve's defence.


It was a canny decision, and the following season he made the position his own alongside Nicola Legrottaglie. Meanwhile, his versatility made him even more useful to La Squadra Azzurra, and, with Italy operating a 4-4-2 system, he served with distinction both in the middle and on the left. His playing time increased when he took over from Marco Materazzi, and since Cannavaro's retirement in 2010 he has emerged as Italy's new leader at the back.


Chiellini has continued to shine in the club sphere as well, being voted by his peers as Serie A defender of the year three times in a row between 2008 and 2010. Respected for his fearlessness and commitment, his combative ways nonetheless led him to break his nose on three separate occasions between 2005 and 2009, and each time he wore a protective leather mask that further fed his gritty reputation. Meanwhile, he is the primary outlet for goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon and his natural replacement as captain, having first worn the armband for Italy against Switzerland on 14 November 2012.


A daunting obstacle for opposition forwards, Chiellini is no stranger to fulsome praise, and he earned the admiration of Napoli coach Walter Mazzarri after his side were beaten by Juventus last season. "Juve are very strong in defence," he said. "Chiellini is from another planet. He can man-mark three players all by himself."


Now established as one of the world's foremost defenders, Chiellini has contested over 260 matches for Juventus, while he has notched two goals in 54 appearances for Italy as of May this year. His gifts extend beyond the realm of football too, and he obtained a degree in Business and Economics at the University of Turin on 16 July 2010, earning a final mark of 109 out of 110.