Written By: Gino Caruso
credit Muhammad Ashiq
The list of superlatives to describe Andrea Pirlo go on and on. He’s been called a magician, a genius, an architect, a maestro, and a professor. All these words just begin to describe him. His calm disposition is quite possibly his greatest quality. While everything else seems to be moving at warp speed, Pirlo has the ability to keep his cool and dictate proceedings. He creates time for himself with feints and touches and never looks flustered. His ability to control a game with his passing is very hard to match. He can decide how fast or how slow a game moves. A normal player might see two passing options where as Pirlo sees five and has the ability to get the ball there. Pirlo’s range of passing knows no bounds whether its a 3 yard short pass or a 70 yard ping, Pirlo can do it all. Due to the fact he could create from so far away, he’s a nightmare to stop. No matter how far back he’s pressed he can make a scoring opportunity for his team. Another advantage his passing range gives him is the ability to make something out of nothing. One second he’s getting the ball from the goalkeeper, the next he passes to a winger in the opposing penalty area. His accuracy in passing correlates to his set piece ability. Scoring free kicks is a skill he adopted from the Brazilian Juninho, who is considered the greatest free kick taker of all time. Pirlo himself was no pushover. He holds the record for most free kicks in Serie A, with 28, a record he shares with Siniša Mihajlović. When Pirlo steps up for a free kick there is a good chance it would go in. Whether it be over, under, or around the wall, Pirlo scored them all. From a dead ball situation Pirlo wasn’t shy of setting up his teammates either, being the primary set piece taker he had the ability to drop the ball on the head or at the feet of his teammates. His free kick abilities are no surprise considering the accuracy of his passes during a match.
credit Jan Solo
Building Around Pirlo
Pirlo was not known for his abilities in defence. He participated in the occasional tackle and when he went in he was usually successful, but he preferred to sit in front of the defence and create. He was not known for bombing up the field with speed and running back to defend. With that in mind his talents caused coaches to build midfield’s around him. They would put him next to box to box midfielders that would do the dirty work and had the legs to go back and forth. This was apparent at Milan and Juventus. At Milan he worked beside Seedorf and Gattuso, who both were known for their physicality and toughness. Gattuso in particular was a hard-hitting defensive midfielder, who looked to stop attacks at the source. Seedorf, being more creative, also had the physicality to be successful at both ends of the pitch. At Juventus he was surrounded by the likes of Pogba, Vidal, and Marchisio, who like the duo at Milan were complete midfielders. Vidal being the ball winner of the three, loved to tackle but also had an eye for goal. Pogba much like Seedorf, had the body to muscle players off the ball but also the attacking talent. Marchisio was known as the vice-Pirlo, because he had some of Pirlo’s qualities but also got up and down the field and was successful at doing so. With the midfield’s in place these players allowed Pirlo to do what he did best and create. He didn’t have to worry about much else because mop up work was done mostly by the others. For this reason there will probably never be another player like him. It’s very rare for a midfielder to be given so much freedom to exercise his ability, unless they are playing as an attacking midfielder. Pirlo on the other hand played right in front of the defence so his lack of defensive duty would usually be unheard of. For Pirlo, it was the norm. This isn’t to say he had no defensive duties or capabilities. In a way he’s under appreciated in that respect, but it was nowhere near the level of his other skills.
Pirlo’s greatest contributions were seen in the 2006 World Cup, the 2007 Champions League and Euro 2012. He was simply a cut above the rest in those competitions. He showcased his ability. The 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany can be seen as his greatest accomplishment as a player. He was an intricate piece to an Italian squad that surprised many. His work helped the Azzurri spring from their defence to the lethal strike force they had in that tournament. Throughout the competition he was pulling the strings, scoring once and amassing 3 assists, the 2nd best in the tournament. His most vital assist was from a corner, where he brought Italy level with France in the final. He won the man of the match not only in that game, but also in two other matches during the tournament. This meant Pirlo won man of the match 3 times, the most in the tournament. While Zidane won best player at the 2006 World Cup, many could argue Pirlo should’ve won it, finishing 3rd in the ranking. Although he didn’t win that award he did go on to win the tournament, beating France on penalties in the Olympiastadion in Berlin.
Still fresh from being beaten by Liverpool two years earlier, the 2006-2007 Champions League campaign was a chance for revenge. Pirlo that year had the most minutes played for Milan. He assisted both Seedorf’s goal in the semi-final and Inzaghi’s goal in the final. His contributions were very evident, even if certain stats didn’t show it. He helped players like Kaka to shine through. Pirlo came behind Kaka in all the awards that season, including the Ballon’dor and Best Playmaker. This didn’t change Pirlo’s massive involvement in the success. He silenced his demons from the final in 2005 and showed the world he was the best of the best in his position.
credit Piotr Drabik
Euro 2012 is where Pirlo showed he was not finished as many had thought. He was fresh off his first season with Juventus where he helped them finish the Serie A campaign unbeaten and provided the most assists for them. Prior to this feat, many people thought he was finished including his former club Milan who didn’t make it a priority to extend his contract. He ended up at Juventus on a free transfer and is up there with the greatest bargains in football history. As soon as Euro 2o12 started, he was nothing short of brilliant. Everything Pirlo did worked for him in that tournament. His brilliant free kick was just one of the memorable moments for him in the tournament. The match against England will be remembered as one of the greatest individual performances of all time. He made it look like he was playing against amateurs. He completely dominated the match with his passing. He completed over 100 passes, ranging from long balls to crosses. England had no way of stopping him. He saw everything before the rest of the players and knew exactly what to do with the ball. It was only right his night was capped off by scoring one of the most famous penalties of all time, a chip against Joe Hart. The penalty just embodied everything he brought to the pitch as a player. He was calm, confident, and for not one second nervous. Pirlo’s Euro 2012 campaign didn’t end on a high, losing to Spain in the final. He missed out on player of the tournament to Andres Iniesta and many believe that was wrongfully so.
Great Until the End
Andrea Pirlo has shown throughout his career that age is nothing but a number. Having great success in his 30’s it is very strange that he still performed at the highest level. That is a huge reason Pirlo is unique. He had a specific set of skills that age didn’t have an effect on. This allowed him to consistently be considered one of the best midfielders in the world year after year. Up until his final match for Juventus he was a starter, the same couldn’t be said for the likes of Xavi and Lampard as well as other veteran midfielders. In his last season with Juventus he was vital to their European success that year. His last game for Juventus was the Champions League final and although the result was negative it was only right his European career ended in the stadium he won the World Cup.
What was your favourite Pirlo moment? Let us know in the comments below!