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Thursday November 9 2017
Farewell, Maestro Pirlo

Andrea Pirlo stood out above all others because he never put himself above all others, argues Andrea Tallarita.

You will never understand Andrea Pirlo, the latest of the Italian World Cup winners in 2006 to hang his boots, if you see him as anything but part of a greater whole.

The former Inter, Milan and Juventus midfielder played after an idea of football that was entirely based on being part of a team. He was a director of play, a student of opportunity, someone whose brilliance emerged by extracting the brilliance out of his fellow teammates.

Yet the Maestro was part of something in a wider sense too, in that his story intersects so closely with that of Italian football over a certain period that he comes closer than anyone else to embodying it as a whole.

He stormed the Champions League with Milan, giving Carlo Ancelotti the trunk to build his iconic 'Christmas Tree'. He declined together with the Rossoneri, joined the Old Lady, carried them (and was carried by them) back to the summits, did all of this with the Azzurri too.

There is no significant Italian player since the turn of the millennium that Pirlo did not play either with or against, or both. He was on the pitch when Alessandro Del Piero waved goodbye to the Juventus Stadium, and before that when Paolo Maldini played his final game against Fiorentina.

It is easy to forget, nowadays, the breadth of this regista's career, but the first Italian champion he shared the football field with was Roberto Baggio. In fact, among the Divin Codino's most beautiful goals (against Juventus, no less) was an incredible first-touch control on a long ball that came straight from the confident feet of the Metronomo Bresciano.

I'm not going to try and retrospectively paint that - gorgeous - moment of football as some deeply significant omen, but there is a point to recounting it, and this is it: in nearly everything that was grand about Italian football over the last twenty-odd years, Pirlo was involved somehow or somewhere. Just about the only important exception was, I think, Jose Mourinho's Inter.

That he was involved in so much that was so great may explain why Italy's finest midfielder was seldom the star of his teams. There were strikers and stars and poster-boys that were a lot more marketable than his long, melancholic face. At Milan there was Kaka, at Juventus there was Paul Pogba. The Maestro was the object of great respect, for sure, but never idolatry.

Even in the tournament that represented beyond argument the man's finest hour – the World Cup triumph in 2006 – it would be inaccurate to say that Pirlo 'stole the show' in any sense. Even Fabio Grosso did that better. The truth is that Pirlo partook equally in the heroics of a team that was already incredibly talented, and overperforming to boot.

More to the point, and as always in his career, the Metronomo worked at his best in that World Cup because of the fact that he was part of a greater whole. Opposing teams assumed that the fulcrum of play would be Francesco Totti, and they ironically left a fully-fit Pirlo with a degree of tactical freedom that he would never enjoy again. It was the anonymity of the Maestro that truly unleashed him.

In later years, Pirlo's game became more eye-catching – even a bit histrionic, if you think of his chipped penalty in Euro 2012 – but at 27, the Azzurro had reached football Nirvana. He possessed the perfect balance of physicality and technique, athleticism and experience, heart and brain.

Aesthetically, watching the number 21 was in some ways more reminiscent of billiards than of calcio. The sobriety, the intelligence, the precision of it. No samba, no step-overs, no flip-flaps, no biting, no head-butting, no talk. Only old-fashioned, imperishable Italian football.

That a midfielder should be called the most quintessentially Italian player of his generation speaks to his heritage. This is a football nation that became famous for rocky defenders, and for strikers who were either very cynical or very visionary. Pirlo broke that mold.

After 2006, it became commonplace to discuss any up-and-coming midfielder as 'the new Pirlo'. I've seen the title bestowed upon Luca Cigarini, Andrea Poli, Alberto Aquilani, Riccardo Montolivo and Marco Verratti among others, but these juxtapositions do little more than unfairly diminish the youngsters.

In fact, the aptly-nicknamed Maestro stands in a class of his own. If only for a trophy cabinet that looks like the set-up of an exhibition, he deserves to be called no less than the greatest Italian midfielder of all time.

A player who knew how to combine elegant style with brutal efficiency, Andrea Pirlo was the greatest man on the pitch because he never tried to be greater than the pitch. He showed Italians that you can be both understated and glorious, and this was the last and perhaps the best lesson left to us by the Maestro.

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Have your say...
".we didnt have a world class composed midfielder!Pirlo changed this & is ultimataly the reason we were able to win a WC in 2006 because FINALLY the defense linked with the attack"

Nonsense. Albertini was on par with Pirlo, for years. He had a wicked right foot shot, great precision (ball to Baggio vs France in 98' when he lobbed over the bar), vision.

Various reasons caused us to lose the WC's from 1990 through 2002. In 2002, we lost Albertini to injury, so a broken midfield was what we had.
on the 12th November, 2017 at 8:48pm
In the 90s we had world class defenders & WC strikers. In the 90,94,98 Wcs whilst we came close, we didnt win a WC & we struggled scraping by teams. Why?..we didnt have a world class composed midfielder!Pirlo changed this & is ultimataly the reason we were able to win a WC in 2006 because FINALLY the defense linked with the attack & our Azzurri knew how to possess the ball, not just hold out in defense & hope for a break away goal from a Vieri or a moment of magic from a Baggio. Grazie Pirlo!
on the 11th November, 2017 at 8:46pm
thanks Andrea for the privilege! You are the best ever
on the 11th November, 2017 at 1:32pm
Best player I have seen.... thanks Andrea for making football gorgeous and beautiful!
on the 11th November, 2017 at 1:27pm
Pirlo easily the most amazing player I have seen ... his range is just too varied to be even understood by most lovers of the game.. I can go on and on about this most creative player world has seen.. I thought his corners were the most accurately directed - a mathematical skill - and we're hit with bullet speed.. his free kicks,long balls, thru balls, switch of playes, dummies, passing range, controlling pace of a game, confusiong the opponents catching them off guard...
on the 11th November, 2017 at 1:19pm
Yes, probably the greatest Italian mid-fielder of all time. A great gentleman player, After watching him for a decade and a half I can't recall him ever taking a dive, or making an intentional malicious tackle.

The greatest thrill was watching his amazing skill, how he can hold the ball with three defenders trying to get it from him.

Thank you Andrea for the all the entertainment and showing my 10-year-old son what a truly great soccer player is.
on the 11th November, 2017 at 12:39am
Thank you Pirlo for putting Italian midfielders at the v top ! my favourite moments I must say we're the perfect pass to R Baggio for Brescia where he rounded VDS with his first touch The Goal against Ghana to start us off in 2006 of course the pass to Grosso and the corner you took that led to Materazzi equaliser in the final . Thank you for given us Azzurri Fans so many great moments that will stay with us forever! Grande Pirlo
on the 10th November, 2017 at 4:36pm
What a player! Genius, artist, architect; words cannot describe how important this man has been in the history of Italian Football. I hang my head in shame that I once doubted him towards the end of his Milan days, but I have quite happily ate the humble pie that followed.

Sad day for Football :-(
on the 10th November, 2017 at 12:39pm
it almost sounds like a quote from hamlet "He was a man. Take him for all in all.I shall not look upon his like again."

My personal fav moments from pirlo was the goal he scored against real madrid in the champion league for milan and his goal against parma. as for italy easy that pass to grosso simply brillant.
on the 10th November, 2017 at 10:54am
We will never see the likes of him ever. He was and is unique. He was the silent leader who everyone (Milan/Juve/Italy) looked up to. Grande Pirlo!
on the 10th November, 2017 at 1:17am
Only Italian midfielder with comparable grace was fellow Rossoneri legend Gianni Rivera.
Pirlo dominated both pre Guradiola and post Guardiola era.
His trophy haul and global admiration speak for themselves.
A truly unique player in the modern game.
The heart of the Italian midfield for a decade.

2006 was his crowning moment, but as he grew older he took on more of a veteran's role. 2012 turned out to be the tournament that launched him into a global brand.

A true artist. Grazie Pirlo!
on the 10th November, 2017 at 12:17am
Was so fortunate to see Pirlo play and score from a free kick for Milan. A night my daughter and I will never forget. He was just brilliant. Thank you Pirlo.
on the 9th November, 2017 at 10:49pm
Two things I remember fondly from Pirlo's playing days. His pass to Grosso in Dortmund, and his goal vs Torino in Injury time to win the Derby. Grazie Maestro.
on the 9th November, 2017 at 7:20pm
Fantastic player won everything during his time at milan golden period where he had the good grace to play with the likes of ambrosini gattuso seedorf rui costa and kaka in the midfield possibly why he lacked more recognition for his quality.
btw maybe the press should look into the way they declare certain players the next messi or ronaldo or maldini or pirlo etc saying that there are always been misguided fans who do this. Verratti is a quality player in his own right why compare him to pirlo
on the 9th November, 2017 at 5:35pm
Should have retired in 2012 and not let Prandelli base his entire tactics around him in 2014.
on the 9th November, 2017 at 3:45pm
All good things must come to an end!!
on the 9th November, 2017 at 2:37pm
Oh maestro, you will be greatly missed! You were a throw-back to a different era. One of the most intelligent players I've ever had the privilege to watch. Not a day goes by where I don't thank God for making Pirlo wear the sacred black and white jersey, at a time when we needed him most. What a player, what a man, and what a beard he has! Enjoy making wine in your retirement. You've earned it.
on the 9th November, 2017 at 10:25am
Brilliant piece of writing! We are just lucky to have witnessed Andrea Pirlo in all his greatness. He was "the greatest man on the pitch because he never tried to be greater than the pitch".
There will always be players coming through with enough or even more natural talent but having such a calm, composed & peaceful head as Pirlo's is where most bow down.
on the 9th November, 2017 at 10:02am
Why did people always called pirlo as inter star? brescia's star is more suited to him cause he flop at inter (mostly caused by wrong position/tactical).

@mr lazio, i don't think verratti would be pirlo's heir, he isn't consistent, lack of elegancy, and play on ligue 1 would never make him world class.
on the 9th November, 2017 at 9:27am
Pirlo is from another planet'. He was a great team player 2 n was very intelligent with his positional play. Many technically gifted Italians struggled 2 get into the national team but Pirlo was as effective as he was talented. Showed the world that 'Calcio' isn't just about rugged defenders. Everything just seemed so effortless to him. Almost Zen like. A key component in Italy's WC winning side. They won't b another like him. What a privilege to watch him play n he deserves all the accolades!
on the 9th November, 2017 at 8:42am
What a brilliantly well thought out article! Pirlo does represent what's best about 'Calcio' in the past 20 years. Easy to forget how he struggled to begin with until a breakout season at Reggina n then his move to a deep lying mid 4 Milan. For me he plugged a gap in the Azzurri set up missing since Giannini stopped playing for them. He had that genuine class n vision in midfield. He did often fly under the radar too but his class always shone thro. I remember in the CL my Dad saying that 'That
on the 9th November, 2017 at 8:33am
Pirlo a unique player who will be missed! I think the next best thing could be Verratti but now he is already 25 and to be fair hasn't dominated games like Pirlo did! Maybe thats harsh as he isnt always fit and perhaps over the next five years Verratti can become the flag bearer, in his own style however because to compare players to yesteryear's stars is unfair.
on the 9th November, 2017 at 8:26am

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