Story of a Legend: Andrea Pirlo
Andrea Pirlo plays football in between the lines. His free flowing style of play distinguishes him from nearly any one else in the world. The Italian’s typically calm, almost bored expression on the pitch has bamboozled opponents across Europe and the world over the past 18 years. Pirlo has made a career of meandering in the centre of the pitch, strolling around effortlessly as if going for a light jog along the Po River, looking for “a space where I can continue to profess my creed: take the ball, give it to a team-mate, the team-mate scores. It's called an assist, and it's my way of spreading happiness.”
Born on May 19th 1979 in Brescia, Italy, Andrea Pirlo grew up playing for Voluntas and then Brescia's youth team. Making his debut at just 16 years old, with the Little Swallows already relegated, Pirlo became the youngest player in the club’s history to play in the first division. After winning the Viareggio Cup in 1996 in the youth setup, Pirlo gained manager Edi Reja’s confidence in the first team, scoring two goals in 17 games during the club’s rise back to promotion. The following year Pirlo became a fixed starter, scoring 4 goals in 29 matches as an attacking midfielder, and his immense talent at just 19 meant that he was later purchased by Inter.
Despite his undoubted talent, Pirlo struggled at the Neroazzurri, having little impact in the league and the Champions League. It was for this reason that Pirlo was loaned out twice between 1999 and 2001. It was his second loan spell, at Brescia, that really turned his career around. Carlo Mazzone, the club's manager at the time, decided to change Pirlo’s position from Trequartista and second striker to a Regista or pure playmaker, and it was a decision that helps define him as a footballer to this day.
In his new role Pirlo briefly played alongside Pep Guardiola and behind Roberto Baggio; a position that he has often cited as a major influence in dictating his playing style. So impressive was his form at this time, particularly from someone so young, that Pirlo earned a transfer to AC Milan in the summer of 2001. His first season was unmemorable, but from 2002, the boy from Brescia quickly became a leader. Finally granted a run of games in the heart of midfield, following injuries to Ambrosini and Gattuso, he was able to find consistent starting form. Under the tutelage of Carlo Ancelotti, Pirlo settled into his role as a relegated playmaker, completing a stellar midfield along side Rui Costa, Gattuso and Seedorf. His influence on, and partnership with, his midfield companions bore fruit in the 2002-03 season, as A.C. Milan won the Champions league. Pirlo's steep progression also saw him called up to the national team on September 7th 2002, and at the heart of the Azzurri in the 2004 Olympics in Athens, he won a bronze medal.
In the summer of 2006, Pirlo reached truly legendary status. He led Italy to win the World Cup and was awarded Man of the Match in Italy’s fixtures against Ghana, Germany and France.
As Pirlo recounted following Azzurri’s triumph, “I spent the afternoon of Sunday, July 9, 2006 in Berlin sleeping and playing the PlayStation. In the evening, I went out and won the World Cup.”
The following year Pirlo won his second Champions League alongside Ballon d’Or winner Kaka. The victory was particularly significant as Milan took their revenge on Liverpool following the historic 2005 final in Istanbul. Pirlo’s career at Milan lasted until 2011, when he left to join Juventus on a free transfer after his contract expired with the Rossoneri. During his time at Milan, the legendary Regista won two Champions Leagues, two Scudetti, one Club World Cup, one Coppa Italia, two European Super Cup, and one Italian Super Cup, with 41 goals in 401 matches.
Since moving to Juventus, Pirlo has undergone a renaissance. An avid wine collector, his career has been a sort of metaphor for a complex red. The ability to adapt while maintaining a distinct style has made him an excellent pairing with some of the world’s best holding midfielders.
Now onto his fourth Serie A title in as many years and reaching the Champions League Final, Pirlo has solidified his legendary status. He is currently half way into his second decade as one of the most dominant playmakers in the world. Despite being relatively slow, his strengths lie in his ability for set pieces and dynamic vertical passes. “I strike dead balls alla Pirlo. Each shot bears my name and they're all my children.”