Rumours over Andrea Pirlo’s future with Italy continue to circulate with the latest reports suggesting the Juventus maestro could continue with the Azzurri.
Prior to World Cup 2014, Pirlo had stated that it would be his international swan song. The poignant reality of an Italy-less Pirlo would seemingly soon come to pass.
However, the team were dumped out unceremoniously in the group stage in Brazil, Coach Cesare Prandelli resigned and shortly after Pirlo expressed the notion that should Italy’s new CT ‘need’ him then he would still be available.
His on-off international retirement sparked reports that the 35-year-old playmaker would continue and those intensified when Antonio Conte, his former boss at Juventus, was appointed to the Italy hot seat.
Of course, Conte and Pirlo enjoyed an abundance of success in Turin, working together to secure three consecutive Serie A titles in the past three seasons, with the player’s performances often being a driving force in those championship runs. That Conte has left and Juventus still remain favourites for the Scudetto is based almost in no small measure on the expectation surrounding Pirlo’s continued influence even in his advancing years.
Being a veteran nearing the end of his career, further rumours began to emerge that the midfield maestro would be used on a part-time basis by Conte, only playing in important qualifiers and international tournaments. Conte himself relayed to the Press that he would be speaking with Pirlo about a possible return, describing him ‘as a point of reference’.
The former Milan star is arguably Italy’s best midfielder of all-time, with 112 caps, 13 goals and a 2006 World Cup trophy - his influence on the national team cannot be understated. He has been at the heart of many of their great performances over the last 10 years or so - perhaps too many...
It is not fair to give Pirlo preferential treatment, wrap him in cotton wool, and hope he is ready for the big matches when they come. Italy have had an issue with performances being utterly Pirlo-dependent, which is perhaps at the heart of their reluctance to see him go.
However, over-reliance on a player who, although still is brilliant in many aspects of the game, at his age will only become less and less reliable, shouts of a team afraid to go forward and a disappointment waiting to happen. Now is the right time to move on – regardless of whether Pirlo feels he can positively contribute or not.
Marco Verratti and others coming through the ranks in various positions deserve a chance to develop and show that they can shoulder the burden. The inevitable cannot be delayed forever. In the short-term a Pirlo-less Italy may struggle with a new style of play and new ideas – they will not be used to missing a staple of Italian football on the field. However, eventually transition must happen and others need to step up or at least have the chance to. Sadly, Pirlo will not be around forever.
The midfielder has done an impressive and distinguished job with the reins of Italy, his legacy is cemented, but keeping him at the forefront of the team at this point cannot help anyone. Ultimately, Pirlo will be gone and it is better to make that decision together rather than have the situation forced upon them and then have to throw players with marginalised experience into the deep end.
Pirlo is so iconic that his beard and steely looks of being unimpressed have gone viral across the world, but despite how it may have looked on some occasions, Italy is not Pirlo and Pirlo is not Italy. Change can be frightening – yet the national team and the player both need to move on so that a new cycle can begin. If they refuse to do that, the #PirloIsNotImpressed stare should be directed towards La Nazionale by the fans. The reality is – as unfathomable as it may sound to some - it’s time to let go.