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Legends in Review – Andrea Pirlo

A player who defined the role of the deep-lying playmaker, Andrea Pirlo oozed class, elegance, and effortlessness during a career spanning 20 years.

The Italian played most of his career at the top-level in Italy for both Milan teams and Juventus. He was also extremely successful on the international stage, playing a leading role for Italy for 15 years.

Pirlo – THE EARLY DAYS

Andrea Pirlo was born on the 19th day of May 1979 in Flero, Italy. Pirlo was born into a wealthy family and helped with his father’s metal company during the 1980s. However, football was his true passion.

Pirlo played football with his brother Ivan from a young age in Brescia. But it wasn’t long before his talents were recognised by local club Brescia Voluntas. Pirlo rose through the youth ranks at Brescia and eventually made his first-team debut in 1995 at the age of 16.

Brescia – 59 Appearances – 6 Goals

Pirlo became Brescia’s youngest player to feature in Serie A. But, he had to wait for another season before featuring for Brescia’s first-team again. Pirlo did not play at all during the 1995/96 season and he was used in the youth squad instead.

1996/97 was Pirlo’s breakthrough season. The club was competing in Serie B and Pirlo helped the team to win promotion back to Italy’s top-flight, making 17 appearances and scoring two goals.

He went from strength to strength in the following season. Pirlo made a further 30 appearances for Brescia in the 1997/98 season and his talent caught the eye of some of the biggest teams in Italy whilst playing as an advanced midfielder.

Inter Milan – 40 Appearances – 0 Goals

Inter Milan signed Pirlo from Brescia ahead of the 1998/99 season for £1.8 million. However, Pirlo struggled to break into the first-team and was limited to bit-part appearances for most of the season. As a result, Pirlo was loaned to Reggina in the following season so he could gain more first-team experience.

The move was successful and Pirlo played 28 Serie A games for Reginna, scoring six goals. However, when he returned to Inter for the 2000/01 season, Pirlo once again struggled to earn a place in the first-team. The midfielder featured just four times in the first half of the season.

For the second time in two years, Pirlo was loaned out but to former club Brescia. It was a career-defining move, which saw the midfielder deployed as a deep-lying playmaker for the first time. He excelled in his new role and helped Brescia to a seventh-place finish in Serie A.

AC Milan – 401 Appearances – 41 Goals

After making just 40 appearances across three seasons for Inter, city rivals, AC Milan, purchased Pirlo for just over £15 million in the summer of 2001.

Pirlo spent the longest spell of his career at AC Milan, where he spent nearly a decade. He was extremely successful as part of a talented team, which included Andriy Shevchenko, Kaka, Clarence Seedorf, and Rui Costa.

During a nine-year spell with AC Milan, Pirlo won two UEFA Champions Leagues, two Serie A titles, and one Italian Cup. While he was not a prolific goalscorer for AC, Pirlo racked up plenty of assists from his deep-lying playmaker role including 11 in the 2007/2008 season.

After winning his second Serie A title with AC in 2011, Pirlo announced that he would be leaving the club at the end of the season. He featured little in his final season, making just 19 Serie A appearances.

Juventus – 164 Appearances – 19 Goals

Shortly after his departure from Milan, Pirlo signed for their Serie A rivals Juventus. In the 2011/12 season, Pirlo hit the peak form of his career and became a central component of Juve’s side. The midfielder assisted 14 goals throughout the season and featured in 37 Serie A games. At the end of the season, Pirlo won his second Serie A title.

Pirlo continued to impress at Juventus in subsequent seasons. As a result, he experienced more success with the Serie A giants. In four seasons with Juventus, Pirlo lifted four consecutive Serie A titles and one Italian Cup. To cap an excellent career with Juve, he was named as the Italian Player of the year for three consecutive seasons between 2012 and 2014.

After four impressive seasons in Turin, Pirlo left Juventus after the club lost the 2015 Champions League final 3-1 to Barcelona.

New York City – 62 Appearances – 1 Goal

In July 2015, Pirlo joined Major League Soccer side New York City and made 13 appearances in his first season in America. In the following season, Pirlo played more of a starting role for New York and played 32 matches. He helped his side to their first-ever MLS Eastern play-off but lost in the semi-final.

Pirlo struggled with fitness and injury problems at the beginning of the 2017 season. As a result, the Italian midfielder announced that the season would be his last in professional football. He made his final appearance for New York on November 5, 2017.

Italy National Team – 116 Appearances – 13 Goals

Pirlo had a long-standing international career with Italy. He played in six consecutive major tournaments for his country and lifted the 2006 World Cup. He was an influential member of the 2006 squad, starting every match and making three assists throughout the tournament, and scoring his penalty in the final against France.

Pirlo was also one of the best players at the EURO 2020 tournament. He led his team to the final against Spain, which they lost 4-0. However, in an Italian side that was rebuilding, Pirlo was recognised for his outstanding performances at the tournament.

Besides these successes on the international stage, Pirlo was also part of the underperforming Italy teams in the 2010 and 2014 World Cups as they failed to qualify from their respective groups.

Pirlo, however, was remembered as a true Italian great, capable of producing moments of quality, long-remembered by his compatriots.

Style of Play

Pirlo was not the most physical football player of his generation. But what he lacked in pace, strength, and mobility, he made up for in vision, passing, and creativity.

The Italian’s role in most teams was to dictate the play by receiving the ball in deep areas and play a range of long and short passes to teammates. While it may seem a straight forward job, the role requires intelligence and supreme awareness. Pirlo was regarded as one of the best playmakers of his generation. A testament to his outstanding creativity, Pirlo’s national teammates nickname him ‘The Architect’.

Pirlo protected the ball with immense quality, often feinting and dummying quickly to fool onrushing opponents. He would often use his trickery and vision to play unbelievable first time passes, reflected by the number of assists he made throughout his career.

Football Legacy

After retiring in 2017, Pirlo began studying for his UEFA coaching licenses. He was appointed as the Juventus under-23 head coach in July 2020. However, just nine days later, he took became head coach of the first team, following  Maurizio Sarri’s dismissal.

Many current professionals play a similar role to Pirlo for their respective teams. Thiago Alcântara of Liverpool, Toni Kroos of Real Madrid, and Sergio Busquets of Barcelona all play in the deep-lying playmaker role.

However, Pirlo was head and shoulders above his contemporaries in terms of technical ability. His ability to pass and create, and make it look easy, was an absolute masterpiece to watch.