Andrea Pirlo’s name is already etched into the history books of Juventus. A protagonist in the Bianconeri’s rise back to the top at the beginning of the last decade, Pirlo was the early inspiration behind what would become an era of total dominance in Serie A.
Now nine years after his initial move to Turin, Il Maestro is back, but this time in his first managerial role and he will be hoping to continue the winning cycle he sparked as player back in 2011. When Pirlo arrived from Milan that summer, his reputation as a top tier midfielder preceded him, but on this occasion his ability as a tactician remains completely unknown.
The shock of his appointment as Juventus coach after the dismissal of Maurizio Sarri has been well documented. Chief football officer Fabio Paratici was naturally quick to hype up Pirlo’s potential on the side-line, confidently declaring “he was destined for greatness as a player and we strongly believe he is as a coach.”
A coaching novice, Pirlo now finds himself thrust into one of the biggest jobs in world football. Despite declaring after his retirement just a few years ago that he was not attracted to management, he is in a unique position for a first-time coach who has only recently completed the required exams.
Andrea’s opportunity to develop his craft as the Juventus Under-23 coach was quashed, his coaching journey has skipped a few steps, but Pirlo is – as we have come to expect – unfazed, composed and believes this is the right time for him. So what can we expect from Mister Pirlo?
The former Italy international has had little time in the build-up to the new campaign, adding to the complexity of the situation. However, the World Cup winner has spoken openly about how he wants his Juventus to play and the football he believes is capable of bringing success.
Dynamic football, players that can adapt and function in multiple roles providing solutions in any given situation. Pirlo wants his team to dominate the ball, play with freedom in the final third and be quick to suffocate play when the game is in transition. People have speculated as to what Pirlo’s preferred formation will be, but last week’s friendly against Novara provided a glimpse into how La Vecchia Signora will play under his guidance.
Versatile players creating a hybrid formation that enables the control and manipulation of space. It’s an ideology that’s been deployed by many across Europe and in keeping with Pirlo’s views on modern football. Going forward, Pirlo’s team formed a 3-2-5 system in possession and reverted into a more conventional 4-4-2 without the ball. Cristiano Ronaldo was of course a central feature and in this set-up the Portuguese Number 7 will have plenty of support around him. Albeit against an opponent from the third division, CR7 and co already looked more at home with Pirlo’s ideas than they did under Sarri last season.
Committing high numbers to the attack, their approach was less rigid than we had seen in previous months and the new faces gave the team a fresh feel, making a positive impact in the process. Pirlo already appears to have the players on side, they are buying into his plan and are able to relate to him on a personal level.
It cannot be overstated how important it is that Pirlo is making players feel comfortable, forming a group and fuelling enthusiasm around the training ground. Pirlo’s ability to man manage and motivate a group of experienced players will be as crucial as any of his tactics. If there was any initial scepticism amongst fans around the choice of Pirlo, that has been replaced with an eagerness to see a different playing style. Even a dysfunctional transfer strategy has not overshadowed the curiosity around what l'architetto will bring. Pirlo is making Juventus feel like Juventus again.
It is clear that Pirlo still requires the club to do business on the player front before the close of the transfer window next month, as he is still missing pieces of his puzzle. It is obvious to say there is a long road ahead and they will certainly come across difficult challenges.
Andrea Pirlo has overcome problems before in his career, but this latest reinvention attempt as a world class coach is his toughest yet and no one will be surprised if he achieves it.