There’s nothing quite as satisfying in football – with the plethora of talented youngsters who arrive on a wave of optimism and a hint of cockiness but do nothing yet flatter to deceive – when an experienced ‘former’ great returns to remind everyone he’s still got it. And in our second centre midfielder we have a man who was written off as over the hill, but came back with a bang and just keeps getting better.
If we’re the first website to compare him to a fine red wine, which only gets better with age, then there’s something wrong with the rest. His breakthrough in to Italian football arrived at Brescia where he made 47 appearances before Inter Milan came calling. That may be a surprise to many who don’t look at Calcio too closely, but you can’t blame them for failing to notice the early stages of his career. It’s almost a write-off.
Inter failed to give him the chance despite successful loan spells at Reggina and Brescia and, like the summer of 2011, he was cast off as an unnecessary fringe player. Surprisingly though, AC Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti noticed the talent of the Italy Under 21 international and from that point on his life changed.
Marshalling midfield after midfield which included the likes of Clarence Seedorf, Gennaro Gattuso, Rui Costa and Kaka, he was the deep-lying playmaker Ancelotti craved and the Azzurri cherished as he won two Serie A titles, both the Supercoppa Italiana and Coppa Italia and the UEFA Champions League for AC Milan plus a World Cup with Italy over a 10-year spell.
Sadly for Milan, Carlo Ancelotti’s exit from the San Siro brought about a big change in the midfielder’s career. Leonardo tried and failed to inspire an ageing team before Massimiliano Allegri phased out a number of mainstays like Seedorf, Gattuso and, most significantly, Andrea Pirlo.
What was his reason? He preferred Mark Van Bommel and Massimo Ambrosini to the proven Pirlo. Madness!
Antonio Conte and Juventus jumped at the opportunity to sign the 32 year old and he hasn’t looked back since. Invigorated by a team which plays to his strengths, Pirlo played in 43 matches scoring three goals and assisting 13 as the Turin club went the whole season unbeaten in the league. Oh, and he produced a master-class in ball manipulation at the Euros in the summer with stand-out displays for an Italy side beaten by Spain in the final. Not bad for someone past his prime, is it?
Who knows what the future will hold for Andrea Pirlo? Don’t count on Juventus being his final fling; the way his career has gone he may fancy a crack outside Italy if the legs and brain are still working as efficiently as they are today. Was his place ever really in doubt? Not a chance, Andrea Pirlo was the only choice alongside Xavi Hernandez and that’s why he’s the second central midfielder in our #TalkingXI.
Here’s some of the experts and voters telling you why:
“One of the greatest the game has ever seen. Style, vision and composure. Only needed to be Brazilian to be considered any greater.” – Gino De Blasio, Talking Baws writer, @ginodb
“Pirlo and Xavi should be runaway winners. Metronomes for both their teams and can pull screamers out the bag if they want.” – Mmmarioo Gooomez, @aimcfarl