“I don’t feel pressure…I don’t give a toss about it. I spent the afternoon of Sunday, 9 July 2006, in Berlin sleeping and playing the PlayStation. In the evening, I went out and won the World Cup.”
The FIFA World Cup in 2014 was a great spectacle and arguably the greatest World Cup of the modern era. What’s not to like about that month-long extravaganza of football? Right from the off, there were goals galore, shock results with Costa Rica going to the last eight, Lionel Messi finally bringing his best at an international tournament, and Germany going absolutely mad on a Brazilian net in Belo Horizonte in a semi-final. And on top of that, it was held at the home of beautiful football, Brazil itself.
But how does one make something good even better? Andrea Pirlo, of course.
Italy may have flopped at the tournament after crashing out in the group stages for a second consecutive World Cup in controversial circumstances (Luis Suárez can explain better) but their standout performer was the extraordinary Andrea Pirlo. A man who oozes class wherever he goes, the then 34-year-old Pirlo had the entire opening group game against England controlled by his elegant right foot. He dictated the tempo of the match, nearly won a penalty and had a major part to play in the opening goal.
Most players create chances with some flashy footwork to wow the crowd and get themselves a 10-second snippet on the post-match highlight reel, but a man of Andrea Pirlo’s aura takes the more unconventional route towards getting a pundit like Thierry Henry to analyse him in the BBC studios. Unlike most, Pirlo never touched the ball in the build-up to the first goal, scored by Claudio Marchisio. His deft dummy bamboozled a helpless Daniel Sturridge and created an opening for Marchisio, who deserves equally as much credit for wonderfully getting the better of Joe Hart in the England goal.
“I strike dead balls a la Pirlo. Each shot bears my name and they’re all my children. They look like one another without being twins, even if they do boast the same South American twins.”
His free-kicks are exactly what he talks them up to be. Perfect in every sense of the word. In the same game against England, where he was the man-of-the-match, Pirlo let off a ferocious free-kick in the final minutes of the game looked so suave, that it made the world forget that it hadn’t gone in the net. Pirlo’s fizzling shot hit the bar that night but had the world in awe for its imperious technique and the how he managed to keep the ball floating in the air for so long.
And his priors suggest he’s a master of that skill, probably the greatest to ever strike a dead-ball. Just a year prior to that game in Manaus, Pirlo showed off his technique in a Confederations Cup game against Mexico at the historical Maracanã in Rio de Janeiro. In his 100th game for his country, Pirlo stepped up from about 35-yards out and beautifully struck the ball, seeing it go above the wall, and down just in time for it to squeeze into the top corner, giving José Corona no chance of stopping it.
Take a ball further upfield, say about 12 yards away from goal, and you get an equally efficient response. England seem to be his favourite opponents on the international stage and in the European Championships in Ukraine and Poland in 2012, he gave the world another high spot to clamour over. The Panenka penalty is one of the hardest and most intimidating skills to perform perfectly, and especially on that stage, in a knockout game, Pirlo proved to the world that he possessed ice-cool veins. Don’t show the world all the times it may have gone wrong (cue José Manuel Pinto), show them this little gem and note the words about the ever-cocky Joe Hart:
“I’m a bit of a wandering gypsy on the pitch. A midfielder constantly on the lookout for an unspoilt corner where I can move freely just for a moment… A space where I can continue to profess my creed: take the ball, give it to a team-mate, team-mate scores. It’s called an assist, and it’s my way of spreading happiness.”
A man with his repertoire can retire knowing he’s done a really great job. His CV is as good as it gets for a professional footballer, and most can agree that he’s had a major hand to play in many of his team’s successes. A FIFA World Cup success in 2006 is his ultimate glory, and six Scudetti, two Champions League titles, two Coppa Italia medals, two UEFA Super Cups and one FIFA Club World Cup creates a list that dreams are made of.
He’s also represented Italy’s three biggest football clubs: Inter Milan, who he joined after his development at local side Brescia, AC Milan, where he had the most successful of spells under Carlo Ancelotti, and Juventus, who made AC Milan realize the massive mistake they made when they let him go for nothing and he propelled them to four successive Serie A honours and the Champions League Final after stunningly reinventing himself before departing for the splendour of New York and the MLS.
In a career that’s spanned nearly two-and-a-half decades, one that is what most footballers dream of, Pirlo heads into the final phase of his career with a legacy left behind. He’s entertained everyone with any shirt he’s put on, and despite playing for three of the fiercest rivals in Italian football, he is equally loved by all, and that is a testament to the man’s quality. He’s now revving it up in New York, a city that complements the man, and probably finds equal entertainment off the pitch, as he’s given us on the pitch.