Andrea Pirlo’s Milan career came to an end a few days ago, bringing to an end a successful time at one of the world’s biggest clubs. Pirlo first came to notice when he excelled at youth level for Italy, captaining them to the U-20 European championship in 2000 and winning the best player and top scorer awards. When he made the move from Brescia to Inter, he was unable to hold down a place in the first team and having spent much of the time on loan, eventually went to Milan in a series of swap deals. Under Fatih Terim he was initially deployed in an attacking midfield role, but it was in a new deep lying position in midfield under new coach Carlo Ancellotti that he really blossomed into one of the best players in the world. As a ‘regista’, he found time on the ball to dictate games, earning nicknames like “l’architetto” (the architect) and ‘the metronome’, with Rino Gattuso’s hardwork in the defensive role essential to this. That partnership, together with Ambrosini and Seedorf, became the best midfield in Europe. A European Cup and Coppa Italia triumph in 2003 was swiftly followed by the league title in 2004. They again reached the European final in 2005, and after a brilliant first half which ended with Milan 3 goals up (Pirlo assisted the first goal), they collapsed in the second half and the game went to penalties, with Pirlo missing his kick. He was once again instrumental in the Italy side that won the World Cup in 2006, as Pirlo reached his peak. He was awarded the bronze ball and voted man of the match in the final (his 3rd in the competition), giving the assist for Materazzi’s goal. He banished the memories of his Istanbul miss by scoring in the penalty shoot-out, and had his revenge over Liverpool when they met again in the final in 2007.
Pirlo became synonymous with the role of the modern ‘regista’. Tactically, the Italians divide their playmakers into 2: Trequartistas, who operate in the space three-quarters of the way up the pitch behind the attack, and registas who are deeper lying. Pirlo’s deep position was actually a response to the increasing defensiveness of football in the early 2000s. It made it difficult for opponents to check him, allowing him time on the ball to regularly unpick defences. His excellent technique also made him very dangerous from set pieces, and he occasionally produced belters of his own, like his only goal of this season against Parma from 40 yards, which was his last goal in a Milan shirt. Anyone who marvels over Xavi’s passing now should realize that Pirlo did the same thing before him week in week out with less media coverage and with arguably less imposing team mates.
In the end, Pirlo is leaving the San Siro because Max Allegri is going to be deploying a trequartista in front of a more hardworking midfield, therefore rendering his position redundant. His desire for a longer contract than the 1 year extension he was offered, plus the issue of his wages also helped him out the door. At just 32 (his birthday is 19th May), he definitely has a good couple of years left in him at the highest level. Speculation linking him with Juventus makes sense because a partnership with a rejuvenated Filipe Melo could give him the platform to once again be influential. Below is a video of a little compilation of his passes. Enjoy.
TRIVIA: Should Pirlo move to Juventus, he could also be the eighth player to play for Milan, Inter and Juve in his career. So far, the number stands at seven: Giuseppe Meazza, Aldo Serena, Patrick Vieira, Christian Vieri, Roberto Baggio, Edgar Davids and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.