“Here is Andrea Pirlo.. against Joe Hart.. and that.. is absolutely wonderful”
Andrea Pirlo captivated everyone’s heart when he chipped Joe Hart with a Panenka penalty in the 2012 Euro quarter-final.
‘Keep calm and pass the ball to Pirlo’
That’s what they used to say during his days at Juventus. This sentence explains his game better than anything else. Always calm on the ball, L'architetto was an ideal deep-lying playmaker. He used to read the game perfectly and pick out any pass on the ground efficiently. The ‘Pirlo Role’ is understood throughout the world, a role that he bossed.
After retirement, some players are remembered by the silverware they won, some by being fan-favourites and some by the respect they garnered from their rivals. Only a few players fit in all three dimensions. Andrea Pirlo was one such footballer.
Today, on his 41st birthday, we take a look back at Pirlo’s incredible career.
Pirlo started his footballing career with his hometown youth team, Flero. He later joined Voluntas. Subsequently, he joined the youth ranks of Brescia in 1994. He initially played as a supporting forward. Next year, at the age of 16, Pirlo made his Serie A debut for Brescia, becoming the youngest Brescia player to appear in Serie A. He broke into Brescia’s first team during the 1997-98 season, when they played in Serie B. He helped Le Rondinelle to claim the Serie B title and gain promotion the Serie A.
Inter Milan days and a career-changing loan spell at Brescia:
In Image: Pirlo & Ronaldo during their Inter Milan time
His former manager at Brescia, Lucescu was Inter’s manager that time. Lucescu signed him from Brescia. However, Pirlo had a hard time breaking into the first team and he was loaned to Reggina for the 1999-00 season. He impressed on his loan and returned to Inter but was once again warming the bench. In the second half of the 2000-01 season, he was loaned to his childhood club, Brescia. By that time, Roberto Baggio used to play as an attacking playmaker for Brescia. It was here at Brescia when manager Mazzone made a ground-breaking decision to deploy Pirlo as a deep-lying playmaker. Even today, Roberto Baggio admits that his favourite goal was the one he scored in 2001 for Brescia against Juventus, which was set up by a 35-yard long pass by Pirlo.
AC Milan days:
In Image: Pirlo at AC Milan
Pirlo was sold to rivals AC Milan in 2001. In his initial days at Milan, he underperformed a bit. But slowly he started performing consistently. It is Ancelotti, in particular, who is credited with bringing the best out of Pirlo by pairing him with the legendary Gennaro Gattuso. The role of Gattuso was to drop back and allow Pirlo to have more independence on the pitch. Gattuso used to do the dirty work behind and Pirlo used to run ahead and find the likes of Inzaghi, Shevchenko and Kaka. Ancelloti used to deploy a 4-3-1-2 and 4-3-2-1. Pirlo used to play alongside other attacking midfielders such as Kaka and Rui Costa. The presence of Pirlo with other creative talents like Seedorf, Kaka and Rui Costa gave opponents a tough time. In fact, Pirlo, Seedorf and Gattuso formed one of the best midfield in the world at that time. At times, when opponents tried to shut Milan’s midfield down, Pirlo used to create magic with dead-ball situations, especially his deadly freekicks. During his time at Milan, Pirlo won two Serie A titles, two Champions League titles, two UEFA Super Cups, one Coppa Italia, one Supercoppa Italia and one Club World Cup.
Juventus days and end of European career:
In Image: Pirlo (Juventus) and Gareth Bale (Real Madrid) during a match
Juventus signed Pirlo on a free transfer in 2011. Conte started playing him in a three-man midfield in 3-5-2 formation alongside Arturo Vidal and Marchisio. This allowed Pirlo to continue his role as a deep-lying playmaker, while Vidal and Marchisio supported him defensively. His first goal for the Old Lady was a freekick against Catania. He finished his first season as Serie A champions with Juventus. He was nominated for the 2012 Ballon d’Or and was also elected the 2012 Serie A Footballer of the Year. He also helped Juventus reach the 2015 Champions League final but Juventus lost 3-1 to Barcelona. In total, he made over 160 appearances for Juventus, scoring 19 goals, 15 of which were freekicks. In the summer of 2015, he left Juventus for New York City in MLS. In 2017, he announced that he would retire from football at the end of the season. A testimonial match was played at San Siro in 2018 in honour of his retirement from football.
Pirlo led his team to a U21 Euro Championship in 2000, winning the golden boot and the best player award. He made his national team debut in 2002 at the age of 23 in Italy’s 2-0 win over Azerbaijan. He was called up for the 2004 Euros and he made two appearances in the tournament. However, it was under Marcelo Lippi, he became a key player of the national team. He was called up for the 2006 World Cup qualifiers and became a starter in the World Cup as well. He featured in all games Italy played in the tournament. He was named the MOTM in the semis against Germany. In the final against France, he helped Italy equalize from the corner. The match went into extra-time and Pirlo scored the first spot-kick, helping the Azzurri's win the World Cup. He was named the Man of the Match of the final. He also finished the tournament as the top assist provider. He featured in all three group games of 2008 Euros but was suspended for the quarter-finals and Italy lost on penalties against eventual winners Spain. He was injured during the 2010 World Cup and only came on as a substitute in their third group game. Italy was knocked out of the tournament in the first round itself.
Italy coach Prandelli called him up for the 2012 Euros. Prandelli shifted to a 3-5-2 formation popularized by Conte to bring out the best from Pirlo, De Rossi and Motta. However, a strange decision in the final to change the formation led to Italy losing 4-0 against Spain. In total, he made 116 appearances for Italy, making him the fifth-most capped player in Italy’s history.
Remembered as one of the finest midfielders of all time, Happy Birthday Andrea Pirlo and thank you for making millions of fans fall in love with the beautiful game of football.