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The genius and magic of Andrea Pirlo

November 20, 2017 11:44 IST

'For more than two decades, Pirlo, with the velvety touch, penetrative eye, and parabola-pass perfection, roamed the middle of the park like a creative colossus,' notes Dhruv Munjal

Andrea Pirlo

IMAGE: Andrea Pirlo brought down the curtain on his illustrious career. Photograph: Claudio Villa/Getty Images

It's not always easy to find the right words to describe the enormity of what Andrea Pirlo could do on a football pitch.

Some years ago, a clever fan on the Internet nonetheless had a go at 'defining' what the word Pirlo meant, coming up with something remarkably insightful.


His three variations of the Pirlo description included 'having no equal; matchless', 'eminent or beyond comparison', and 'better than any other of its type'.

This remains the most delightful -- and befitting -- Pirlo tribute I've encountered in all these years, one that I revisited after the Italian announced his retirement last week.

Pirlo's genius perhaps lay not so much in his raw talent, but in the ability to conquer inadequacies that would have derailed most other football careers.

He couldn't dribble or scream past you with searing pace; he had little physical presence; he was no bellicose tackler, either.

In fact, Pirlo would have found himself a little out of place in the pandemonium-stricken world of the modern-day midfield.

Yet, for more than two decades, Pirlo, with the velvety touch, penetrative eye, and parabola-pass perfection, roamed the middle of the park like a creative colossus.

He came up with variations of geometric precision that would’ve made eminent mathematicians amply proud.

If Zinedine Zidane was football's version of the Bolshoi Ballet, Pirlo was unquestionably its Rolls Royce: Smooth and effortless.

Even as players around him zoomed past on Ducatis and Kawasakis, Pirlo drove at his own pace -- never hurried, never flustered.

In fact, you never saw him run; he ambled.

And as his talents fully unravelled, his teammates realised that they were better off playing at his speed. After all, he made even the average ones look awfully good.

Andrea Pirlo

IMAGE: Pirlo celebrates after scoring against Olympiakos during Juventus' Champions League match in 2014. Photograph: Giorgio Perottino/Reuters

Visually deceptive players are beautiful specimens; the kind who seem to be doing nothing to the untrained eye.

In actuality, however, they run the opposition ragged with their own imperceptible methods. Even without the tricks and flicks, they are the most effective players on the pitch.

Pirlo, alongside Xavi and Paul Scholes, was undeniably among the most brilliant exponents of this difficult art -- perhaps the best in the past 30 years.

That he always had midfield partners -- Gennaro Gattuso, Daniele De Rossi, Massimo Ambrosini, Paul Pogba and Marco Verratti -- to do some running for him obviously helped.

You'd imagine that numbers would never do such players full justice. Yet, Pirlo found ways to look good on a spreadsheet, too.

In the quarter-finals at Euro 2012, he famously outpassed England's entire midfield, which comprised a quite decent pairing in Steven Gerrard and Scott Parker. He finished the game with a ludicrous Panenka, looping the ball past a visibly bewildered Joe Hart, aptly putting an end to a game he himself had so deftly orchestrated.

Andrea Pirlo

IMAGE: Pirlo playing for Italy. Photograph: Claudio Villa/Getty Images

Two years later at the World Cup in Brazil, a 35-year-old Pirlo had the English chasing shadows again, this time a virtuoso performance capped off by an outlandish dummy for Italy's first goal and a long-range free kick that thundered against Hart's goal deep into stoppage time.

But then Pirlo was always destined for greatness.

Cesare Prandelli, his former Italy boss, said that he was left speechless the first time he saw him.

'I'd never seen anything like it,' he writes in the foreword to Pirlo's gripping autobiography, I Think Therefore I Play. He played alongside greatness too.

In 2001, while still at Brescia, Pirlo lobbed a 40-yard, defence-splitting pass for Roberto Baggio to score the most memorable goal of his career, against Juventus.

Starting exactly a decade later, he would lead Juventus to four straight Scudettos.

His personality was sometimes more intriguing than his football.

The bearded, suave visage sometimes gave the impression that he exuded arrogance, and unapologetically so.

But the smugness added to his appeal; never did a player or coach find it repulsive.

Off the pitch, in this age of infuriating hyperbole, he spoke little, fusing gentlemanly conduct with old-world charm.

Instead of jetting off to some faraway party locale, he spent much of his time savouring wine at his vineyard in Coler village near Brescia -- a place he expects to traverse more now that he's given up playing.

If you were, however, to dissect one of Pirlo's standout traits, it was his insouciance.

'I don't feel pressure... I don't give a toss about it. I spent the afternoon of Sunday, July 9, 2006, in Berlin sleeping and playing PlayStation. In the evening, I went out and won the World Cup,' he coolly remarked after Italy's win over France in the final.

He once even turned up wearing a T-shirt that said 'No Pirlo, No Party'. He couldn't have been more right.

For 22 years, what a party he threw us.

Dhruv Munjal
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