Wednesday March 19 2014
Free-kick master Pirlo

Andrea Pirlo’s superb free-kick gave Juventus maximum points against Genoa. Luca Cetta examines the dead-ball artistry of Italy’s Maestro.

When Fabio Quagliarella was felled just outside the penalty area in the 88th minute of Juventus’ scoreless clash at Genoa, one name was on everybody’s lips. This was Andrea Pirlo territory. The Bearded Genius was the player to take responsibility in front of Genoa’s boisterous Gradinata Nord.

At the other end, Gianluigi Buffon could only watch and hope. Was he confident as Pirlo placed the ball? “Of course, there’s always hope when Pirlo’s on the ball, even if he’s in my penalty area. He’s one of those players who can change a game.”

The Stadio Luigi Ferraris held its collective breath. Mattia Perin built his defensive fortification. Unfortunately for Genoa, the wall and goalkeeper were helpless. One caress of the right foot later, Pirlo secured Juve three points. Perin got close, but the free-kick was simply too good. “It wasn’t one of my best goals, I’ve scored a lot,” shrugged the ever-modest Pirlo.

It was Il Maestro’s fourth Serie A goal of the season. His 12th overall for Juventus. Of those, 10 have come from a dead-ball. The last non-free-kick Pirlo goal was against Roma in April 2012.

That dead-ball proficiency has rocketed the Lombardy native up the list of all-time Serie A free-kick specialists. The strike at Genoa was Pirlo’s 25th in the top flight, putting him just three behind record holder Sinisa Mihajlovic. Francesco Totti is the only other active player in the top 10, on 14 goals.

When faced with a defensive wall, Pirlo can call upon a full bag of tricks. Aside from curling up and over, the No 21 is adept at burrowing under the wall, or going around it. Then there’s the maledetta – cursed – shot, hit with power to glide through the air with an unpredictable trajectory.

For Pirlo – who says, “many of my colleagues see in me an example to follow, to copy and maybe even out-do” – practice is the key. “I’d like to see young players understand how important set-pieces can be, because they can often decide the outcome of a game. All it takes is a little practice every day and you can improve your touch and accuracy no end.”

Pirlo told the Gazzetta dello Sport that in the days of each Serie A team using a specific and slightly different ball for home matches, he made sure to be sent the upcoming opponent’s model before an away game to practice his technique.

He studied his heroes growing up. “Since I was a child I watched tapes of [Roberto] Baggio, Zico and [Diego] Maradona,” Pirlo noted to the Daily Mail, “and then I tried to replicate them just playing on my own against the wall. Certainly it’s talent but you have to cultivate that talent.”

The 34-year-old credits training alongside the Divine Ponytail at Brescia as a big step in his development. Another contemporary he idolised was Juninho Pernambucano, the former Brazilian international who made the art of the free-kick look decidedly simple. Pirlo wrote in-depth on free-kicks in his recently released autobiography, specifically Juninho.

“I collected CDs, DVDs, even old photos of his games and eventually I came to understand. It wasn’t an immediate discovery. It took time and patience.” Pirlo’s training ground goal was to unlock the secret to Juninho’s style.

Initially he wasn’t successful. More balls scattered the outer reaches of Milanello than hit the net.

Then the discovery. “Juninho didn’t hit it with all his foot, but with only three toes.” When Pirlo went to test the theory, he hit the top corner. “It would have been a goal even with a keeper there.” Four more successful attempts later, Pirlo was on the money. Juninho’s secret was out of the bag.

One person who hopes Pirlo loses his golden touch is Mihajlovic. “Sportingly I hope he doesn’t manage to overtake me,” the Serbian told the Gazzetta. “He’s very good, but if we count the ones I scored in Yugoslavia too, Andrea would have to be born again to catch me.”

Sampdoria’s boss, who once exclaimed, “I don’t think I would ever have played football if free-kicks had never existed,” challenged the Juventus star to a showdown. “I’m up for it. Ten free-kicks each. We’ll see who scores the most. Like gunslingers. I’ll let him choose the ball and the goalkeeper.” No response yet from Pirlo.

While that confrontation is on the backburner, Pirlo remains a dead-ball example to follow. An expert in different styles, but guaranteed to give you the same result.

Top 5 Pirlo free-kicks

5. Genoa vs. Juventus, Serie A 2013-14

When Juventus needed a goal, Pirlo was their man from the set-piece. A superb last-minute effort in which Grifoni goalkeeper Mattia Perin scampered quickly to cover a lot of ground in an attempt to stop it, but was left stranded by Pirlo’s centimetre-perfect execution.

4. Italy vs. Scotland, World Cup 2006 qualifying

Sinisa Mihajlovic once scored a hat-trick of free-kicks in one game. Here, Pirlo grabbed a brace. The Azzurri had started World Cup qualifying unconvincingly, but at his home stadium in Milan, Pirlo rocked Scotland with a free-kick in each half, the second the pick of the two – curled expertly into the corner.

3. Milan vs. Schalke 04, Champions League 2005-06

As the Rossoneri welcomed the German club to San Siro, qualification from the group stage was on the line. Milan knew a win would take them through. Just before half-time, Pirlo stepped up to net a wonderful effort from nearly 30 metres. The dreaded maledetta had done the trick. Milan went on to win 3-2.

2. Inter vs. Milan, Serie A 2007-08

The Derby della Madonnina demands the best. Just 18 minutes in to the first 2007-08 edition, Pirlo answered the call. He drilled a free-kick over the wall so quickly and with such precision, Julio Cesar couldn’t – or didn’t bother – to move.

1. Cagliari vs. Milan, Serie A 2007-08

With Milan headed for a draw at Cagliari, Pirlo lined up a set-piece 30 metres from goal. He nonchalantly hit a rifle that swerved from one side of the Stadio Sant’Elia to the other, before nestling in the net. Goalkeeper Marco Fortin’s look of astonishment says it all. Cursed indeed.

Have your say...
@vini_london...completely agree and as a Juve fan i'm not even sorry! Pirlo is greatness no doubt, but he'll never be at Dels' level on set pieces. Those who disagree are very forgetful of the past.
on the 21st March, 2014 at 6:41pm
...juventus, played alongside great free kick players, and no one dared to step in his place.
we all remember the cheers of fans when he was about to take a free kick. Everybody truthfully thought that he was going to score everytime he put that ball down.

pirlo will never match that, I'm sorry to say that as a juventus fan.
on the 21st March, 2014 at 11:18am
To say that pirlo is a free kick master, is a bit over the top. He's an expert, true, but I don't think he is at the same level as some of the juventus legends, the likes of platini,baggio and del piero.

pirlo as a regista, yes, he is a master on that position. Do not shadow that by bringing free kicks into that. Del piero was way better than him. At a very young age, del piero was taking free kick instead of baggio, and that tells u a lot about the player.
del piero in all those years at....
on the 21st March, 2014 at 11:15am
In less than a week, Pirlo is world class. He has proved that all season and his last two match winning kicks have further illustrated it. It's not just his free kicks but his leadership, vision and effortless distribution that makes him great. Mihajlovic was great on a dead ball but doesn't have a fraction of Pirlo's quality in open play. He would never get man of the match in a World Cup final. We thank Milan for the freebie...Il Diavolo should never have lost faith in San Pirlo...
on the 20th March, 2014 at 11:04pm
Before you grace us with your lolizing, try to understand where I'm coming from. Quagliarella is so worthy of the Azzurri shirt whether you like it or not. If you read my post, you'll see that I mention Osvaldo who I guess isn't a Milan player. Or is he ?Don't make a moron out of yourself.
on the 20th March, 2014 at 8:09pm
lol.. Mustafaa saying that a Juve player should be there instead of Milan player lol?? Sooooo surprising lol.. Don't worry about Balo Mussy, he'll be fine, just as he was in the Euros. You know the Euros where Italy probably doesn't get to the finals if not for Balo? Of course you don't, he's a Milanista lol
on the 20th March, 2014 at 4:41pm
Pirlo for me doesn't really compare to masters like del piero and Mihajlović these guys are like master yoda to pirlo obi wan. Pirlo advantage however is range and power when he hits them in the sweet spot you struggle to see the ball.
on the 20th March, 2014 at 3:00pm
@ Eve

Yes indeed, Del Piero is a masterpiece free-kick takers and certainly better than Pirlo. One of the best of all times in the world, not just in Serie A.
on the 20th March, 2014 at 1:37pm
Strange no word on Del Piero as he is better than Pirlo at freekicks. Del has more range, very close, very far where as Pirlo needs to be a certain distance/angle. Plus Del seems to be more pace/curl on the ball. Pirlo is still a master none the less!
on the 20th March, 2014 at 11:37am
Andrea Pirlo is the Jedi Master of Italian football. He always was a top class player during his time at Milan and for Italy, especially during the 2006 World Cup when he was Man of the Match in the final and was voted in the top 3 players of the whole tournament. His move to Juventus came at a perfect time for both. Conte needed a champion to come in a say "I've come here to win, stop being rubbish", which apparently is exactly what Pirlo said to the players at a team meeting soon after arriving.
on the 20th March, 2014 at 2:51am
Remove the one vs Scotland and replace it with the beauty he scored vs Napoli. That napoli goal was tremendous the ball lift over the defense with no movement on it and dip under the crossbar leaving reina with 0 chance of saving. Pirlo is definitely the best freekick specialist in Italy and can make an argument as the best in the world atm. I'm so happy he plays for Juve. Forza Juve tomorrow vs Fiorentina. I hope we win and move on.
on the 19th March, 2014 at 9:30pm
Despite his one and only scudetto with Milan, I curse Allegri for letting Andrea for free to Juve. What a blind blind blind and stupid decision.
on the 19th March, 2014 at 8:38pm
@Masoua Lakzaei

He scored A LOT more then 10 freekicks for milan in 10 years.. thats for sure. He score around 30 goals for us, and that's just league im couting
on the 19th March, 2014 at 5:23pm
@Masoua Lakzaei took a while to master the tekkers? Or was it that Milan had Ronaldinho/Beckham? even Kaka would have ago? Pirlo had to wait his turn lol
on the 19th March, 2014 at 5:03pm
Del Piero was just as good if not better. I think Pirlo is a better passer only reason Italy won in 2006 was Pirlo, Totti, Camoranesi, and Del Piero passing- as good combos as the Spanish have
on the 19th March, 2014 at 4:36pm
Pirlo scored 11 or 12 Freekick goals for Milan in 10 years and 13 or 14 for Juve in 2.5 years .
on the 19th March, 2014 at 3:42pm
Speaking for Mr. Allegri: To all the Juve fans, you're very welcome. Enjoy.
on the 19th March, 2014 at 3:09pm
Not a word on Del Piero! , who also had 22 Serie A free kick goals.
on the 19th March, 2014 at 2:24pm

yes lets pick Quagliarella instead of Balotelli.. idiot.
on the 19th March, 2014 at 2:23pm
When they called the foul and I saw the spot on the field, I knew Pirlo was going to score. He is a clutch.
on the 19th March, 2014 at 1:04pm
pirlo is the best player in Italy.
on the 19th March, 2014 at 12:59pm
I can only feel sorry for Quagliarella. He's so worthy for Juve shirt, and much needed for the Azzurri instead for the disgraceful Osvaldo and the "World Class" Balotelli.

If it wasn't for him, Pirlo wouldn't have a free kick in the first place.
on the 19th March, 2014 at 12:14pm
That's the cool thing with Pirlo's free kicks he uses a different technique depending on what part of the pitch he is on...genius
on the 19th March, 2014 at 10:24am

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