There are good players and there are great players. But then, there is this small set of players who are above them all and for whom it would be wrong to be put in the same bracket as the rest. Those players are the reason one falls in love with football. And yet, most of them do not get the praise they deserve by everyone. They are usually slated by the opposition fans who are looking for any excuse to have a go at a player (the war between Messi and Ronaldo’s admirers, for example, has become pretty unbearable).
And yet again, there are a few such players who manage to be respected by everyone, no matter which club they cheer for. One of those players is Andrea Pirlo. He brings classiness and an artistic side to the game, and he is a 36-year-old who is still an irreplaceable part of Juventus’s double-winning side. The perfect example for this is the second leg of this year’s semi-final against Real Madrid. In the 79th minute, Juventus have a scoreline which would take them to the final. Pirlo was then substituted by defender Barzagli. Instead of booing and urging him to hurry up, the 78,153 fans at Santiago Bernabeu applauded him.
Pirlo started his career as a supporting forward in his local club Brescia. He made his senior debut in 1995 against Reggina as a 16-year-old, thus becoming Brescia’s youngest player to appear in Serie A. In the 1996/97 season he broke into Brescia’s first team and helped the team achieve promotion to Serie A by winning the Serie B title. Mircea Lucescu, Internazionale’s coach at the time, spotted young Pirlo and bought him from Brescia. But, Pirlo never succeeded in making an impact in Inter’s squad. He was loaned out to Reggina and Brescia. In the 2000/01 season, he played alongside his idol Roberto Baggio in Brescia as a loanee. Brescia’s manager Carlo Mazzone was the first to make Pirlo play as a deep-lying playmaker rather than an offensive midfielder, a role he still plays in today in.
After that season, Pirlo was sold to bitter rivals Milan for the fee of €18,000,000. He stayed in Milan for ten years before the team decided not to renew his contract due to his age. He opted to move to Juventus in 2011, where he plays today. He has won six Serie A titles (two with Milan, four with Juve), two Italian Cups, two Champions League trophies with Milan and a World Cup with Italy in 2006. He was the Serie A Player of the Year for three times in a row in 2012, 2013 and 2014. He has an opportunity to win a treble this season, if Juventus manage to beat Barcelona in this year’s Champions League final.
On 11 April this year, Pirlo scored his 28th Serie A free kick goal against Torino. The goal put him level with Sinisa Mihajlovic at the top of the list of most goals from free kicks in Serie A history. He has a year left in his Juventus contract to get ahead of Mihajlovic and make that first place his own, and he does not hide from the fact that this is his ambition.
He has identified Juninho Pernambucano as his influence in free kick taking. It became an obsession for him to master Juninho’s technique. In his autobiography book, “I Think Therefore I Play”, he calls himself Juninho 2.0, a Brazilian with a Brescia accent. He revealed that he thinks in Portuguese when he gets ready to take a free kick, and also described how to take a free kick alla Pirlo:
“In essence, the ball needs to be struck from underneath using your first three toes. You have to keep your foot as straight as possible and then relax it in one full swoop. That way, the ball doesn’t spin in the air, but does drop rapidly towards the goal. That’s when it starts to rotate. And that, in a nutshell, is my maledetta[the cursed one].When it comes off exactly as I want, there’s no way of keeping it out.”
Juninho himself has praised Pirlo’s free kick abilities, saying that “he has not only copied my shot, but improved it. If I was still playing I’d try and get hold of him, and ask him to teach me that technique.” Pirlo says he enjoys a bit of sadistic pleasure from seeing the ball fly just above the wall, when the players can make out the manufacturer’s name but cannot touch the ball. From that point on, the biggest satisfaction for him is watching the ball take a direction nobody can predict and end up in the net.
He is not a master in every department – his pace is not something you will be astonished by, and his speed is certainly not helped by his age. Also, he is not blessed with great dispossessing tackle skills and will lose most of his aerial duels. Thankfully, he has athletic colleagues by his side in Pogba and Vidal who are more than capable to do what Pirlo is not there for. Despite his defensive weaknesses, he does know how to get the job done, and will not shy away from hard work, often being one of the players on the pitch with the most distance covered.
But, when he gets the ball, that is when the magic starts to happen. No matter where he is on the pitch, if he sees a 1×1 square millimeter where he wants the ball to be, the ball will unmistakably be there. Whether that pixel of a pitch is the part of the goal where the crossbar and the post collide, or it is his teammate’s position, it makes no difference. His attempt will be successful and football appassionati will argue that it is a form of art.
Andrea Pirlo’s contract with Juventus expires at the end of the next season, when he will be 37 years old. Although he had announced that he would retire from international football after the 2014 World Cup, he has continued to play for Italy in the Euro 2016 Qualifiers. It seems that the Euros will be the stage where we will be able to enjoy Il Professore’s final song.