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L’Architetto: Reflecting on the extraordinary career of Andrea Pirlo

Martyn Cooke



If you had to summarise the career of Andrea Pirlo in one sweeping-statement, you would compare him to a fine wine – something that simply gets better with age.

The Italian midfield maestro, who currently resides in America with New York City, announced earlier this month that he intends to retire from the game when the current MLS season concludes. When he finally hangs up his boots later this year it will bring an end to a fascinating and glamorous career in modern football, with Pirlo stepping away as one of the most respected and esteemed players of his generation in addition to a trophy cabinet that is overflowing with achievements.

Pirlo has won a total of six Serie A titles, two Coppa Italia’s, two Champions League trophies and the World Cup in a playing career that has exceeded two decades. However, despite his on pitch success, it is his playing style and role as a deep-lying playmaker that has attracted the admiration of football supporters across the globe.

The Italian is renowned for his artistry, intelligence, vision and range of passing. He operates in a quarterback-like role, picking up the ball in deep positions before spraying a range of sweeping passes across the pitch to commence attacks. Pirlo has become a master of ball retention and redistribution, acting as a midfield conductor who controls the ebb and flow of the game whilst shaping the attacking intentions of his team. To watch him play is a thing of beauty.

Despite his current repute, it is important to remember that Pirlo’s early career was not characterised by the success that would define his later years. In fact, the Italian had to dramatically reinvent himself, his game and his playing style in order to construct a sustainable playing career.

Reinvention and triumph

Andrea Pirlo made his professional debut for his hometown side Brescia Calcio, then a second-tier Italian club, in 1995 as a sixteen-year-old, having only joined the academy system two years earlier.

However, the formative years of his career would prove to be a defining learning curve for the diminutive youngster. Pirlo possessed an abundance of technical talent and intelligence but lacked any real athleticism, strength or power – he was a technician rather than a complete athlete – which raised questions over how he should be deployed on the pitch.

Initially he was utilised a second striker or an attacking midfielder, using his spacial awareness and astuteness to pick up the ball in dangerous positions between the oppositions midfield and defensive units. His early promise resulted in a transfer to Internazionale in 1998 but he failed to hold down a regular place in the first team at the San Siro and was quickly shipped out on loan. It became clear that Pirlo would need to reinvent his game in order to make an impact in Serie A, although it was unclear at the time how this would be achieved.

It was a move to cross-city rivals AC Milan in 2001 that stimulated the transformation of the midfielder’s game.

Pirlo had been utilised on a handful of occasions as a central midfielder during his loan spells, but it was Carlo Ancelotti that definitively saw his potential in a deeper role. Ancelotti recognised that the midfielder possessed vision, intelligence and an outstanding range of passing and immediately began to deploy Pirlo in a holding midfield role. Pirlo was partnered with Gennaro Gattuso, allowing him to shed much of his defensive responsibility, and he was given the freedom receive the ball from defenders and pull the strings from a deep position.

Success and trophies quickly followed – notably two Serie A titles and two Champions League trophies.

However, in 2011 AC Milan deemed that Pirlo was surplus to requirements as the club attempted to reconstruct a younger, fresher and more dynamic team. The suggestion that his best years were behind him were soon proven to be nonsense.

Pirlo joined Juventus and demonstrated that, if anything, his ability and talents were continuing to improve. He became one of the central figures in the team, providing the experience and intelligence to support the emerging talents of Paul Pogba, and helped the club to win four successive Serie A titles.

There was no replication of his Champions League success, having to be content with picking up a runners-up medal in 2015 following a defeat against Barcelona, but Pirlo had cemented his place as a genuine legend of the modern game.

L’Archi tetto

In 2015 Andrea Pirlo joined MLS side New York City, effectively taking up semi-retirement and a stepping away from the highest echelons of the game.

It is worth noting that his success was also replicated in international football where he made 116 appearances for Italy, becoming the fourth most-capped player in Italian history, over a thirteen year period. Pirlo’s crowning achievement came in the 2006 World Cup where he played an instrumental role in helping his country to win the tournament, appearing in every minute of every game throughout the competition.

Andrea Pirlo is undoubtedly one of the most artistic, intelligent and gifted players of his generation, although he was required to reinvent his game and playing style in the early stages of his career. He will be remembered as a gifted midfield player who dictated the pace and tempo of the game with his vision and astonishing range of passing and his nickname L’Architetto (The Architect), stands as the perfect description of his playing style.

Martyn is currently a PTA and Research Assistant in the Department of Exercise Science at the Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU). In addition to his teaching role he is also undertaking a PhD in Sports History that is exploring the origins and development of football in Staffordshire. Prior to working at MMU, Martyn spent a decade operating in the sport and leisure industry in a variety of roles including as a Sports Development Officers, PE Teacher, Football Coach and Operation Manager.


Where does Andrea Pirlo rank amongst the greats of his generation?



Andrea Pirlo

If you asked any football fan to list the top players of the century, there is surely no doubt that Andrea Pirlo would be near the top on the majority of them. 

Having announced his retirement from the game aged 38 earlier this month, the Italian has amassed over 20 winners’ medals, including the Champions League in 2003 and 2007, and the World Cup in 2006.

He has been named Serie A Player of the Year on three separate occasions as well as being named in the FIFPro World XI in 2006, and the UEFA team in 2012.

Pirlo was instrumental in guiding Milan to the 2005 Champions League final, although they lost on penalties – he stated that he considered quitting after that game given the way Milan lost the match, having gone 3-0 up, showing his passion and will to win.

He was then was voted the third best player at the following year’s World Cup as Italy won the competition.

As a player, Pirlo never relied on physicality, and was not a heavy goalscorer, with his highest tally in any campaign being for Milan in 2002/03, where he scored nine goals.

That was only his second season at Milan, having been transferred from close rivals Inter for £10 million.

His move coincided with the arrival of Carlo Ancelotti, who was one of the biggest influences on Pirlo’s development as a player.

Under Ancelotti, Milan and Pirlo won the Serie A, Champions League, Coppa Italia and the UEFA Super Cup all in a four-year spell.

In terms of his playing style, it was his passing that set him apart from the majority of players, as well as his vision, which made him into one of the world’s greatest deep-lying playmakers.

Probably the two closest comparisons to Pirlo in terms of modern-day players are Xavi and Andres Iniesta, both of Barcelona.

Pirlo nearly joined Barcelona under Pep Guardiola in 2010, but Milan refused to sell him despite the Italian’s reported interest in the move. Had he made the move to Spain, Pirlo could have added another dimension to what was already an unstoppable Barcelona side.

He, instead, made the move to Italian giants Juventus, where, despite being at the age of 33 when he signed in 2011, was still a star performer for a side that has dominated Italy for years.

He won four consecutive Serie A titles with the Bianconeri, and carried on playing for his national team until Euro 2016, albeit less regularly towards the end of his career.

His non-selection for that competition by the now-Chelsea manager Antonio Conte signalled the end of his international career, with his record standing at 116 games, 13 goals for his country.

The peak of Pirlo’s career came before his move to New York City last year, although he still made 60 appearances for the club up until his retirement.

In terms of where he ranks amongst the greatest of this generation, you could argue for numerous players to take that accolade.

Pirlo and Xavi were match winners and were crucial in any success their team had – you could argue that Xavi had the toughest task in being the man, alongside Iniesta, entrusted with transforming Barcelona into a tiki-taka style team under the stewardship of Guardiola.

However, Pirlo was unable to settle fully at Inter, leaving to join rivals Milan, and even despite his impact on the club over the years, the Rossoneri board let the Italian go on a free transfer in 2011, where he continued to thrive at Juventus.

The likes of Lampard and Steven Gerrard, as well as Zinedine Zidane, cannot be underestimated based on their contributions to their clubs, but overall Andrea Pirlo would rightly be near the top of any list of the greatest midfielders of this century.

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Manchester City

Three talking points from Manchester City’s impressive victory over Napoli

Jake Jackman



Manchester City

The two meetings between Manchester City and Napoli were billed as must-watches when the Champions League draw was made. The first was entertaining and saw the Premier League side record a home victory, but today’s match at the San Paulo bettered it for spectacle and exciting football. The Serie A leaders started like a house on fire and took the lead after a spell of sustained pressure through Lorenzo Insigne. The visitors bounced back thanks to a Nicolas Otamendi header before half-time. From that stage, they controlled the game and looked the better side, earning a deserved 3-2 win to put them into the next round of the competition. Here are three talking points from the match:

Manchester City are good enough to win the Champions League

The Champions League campaign of the 2016/17 season was a disappointing one and marked Pep Guardiola’s worst in the competition. Manchester City competed well in the group stages, but fell to a defeat in the round of 16 to Monaco. The second leg will have frustrated the City boss as his side fell behind early and failed to react in a convincing fashion. On Wednesday, the early stages were reminiscent of the match at the Stade Louis II, but this time, the Citizens bounced back and got back on level terms before half-time.

After half-time, they kicked on and showed their dominance with some great football. It was important to get an early goal to put themselves into the lead and they showed their ability to react again after being pulled back to 2-2. Guardiola will be pleased by the way that the team managed the game after they scored the third. They kept the ball well and tired Napoli before adding a fourth. This performance sent a message to the rest of Europe. Manchester City are serious contenders for the Champions League.

Napoli are serious contenders for the Serie A title

The Italian team bounced back to the European stage at a similar time to Manchester City and these two sides played out two great matches during the 2011/12 season. Napoli came out on top and qualified for the round of 16 on that occasion. Since then, the Neopolitans have been trying to progress into a team capable of winning major honours. Their last Serie A title came in 1990 and there had been hope of breaking that duck in the near future.

This current Napoli team look the most ready to put an end to that run. Maurizio Sarri is one of the best coaches in Europe and comes from the Pep Guardiola school of football. The Manchester City praised his opposite number in the build-up to this match and he would have been left impressed by the football played by the Italians. They went toe-to-toe with the Premier League leaders and provided them with their toughest test of the season so far.

Guardiola understands the importance of set-pieces

The focus of this season has been the excellent brand of football being played by Manchester City. They are scoring a lot of goals and playing teams off the park on a weekly basis. However, Pep Guardiola hasn’t ignored the importance of set-pieces and they were responsible for the first two City goals on Wednesday. Nicolas Otamendi and John Stones both chipped in with goals and that will please their manager.

West Brom and sides like that have been criticised for their reliance on set-pieces, but the reason lesser teams choose to function on them is that they can be heavily practiced. It is possible to perform open play drills, but situations can’t be predicted from game to game. Set pieces can and Manchester City are clearly using them effectively to add to their goal threat.

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Three talking points from Chelsea’s three-goal defeat to Roma

Jake Jackman




Chelsea fell to a disappointing defeat away to Roma on Tuesday night in the Champions League. There had been a lot of supporters hoping that the Blues would gain a positive result in Italy and move one step closer to qualification, but they failed to do that with a miserable display. They remain in a strong position in the group thanks to Atletico Madrid failing to beat Qarabag for the second time, but they will be disappointed with the result and performance on Tuesday. Here are three talking points from the match:

Antonio Rudiger was a disappointment

The summer signing has shown flashes of his ability during the last few weeks and was starting to establish himself as a first-team regular until this performance. The German international made an awful mistake for the second goal as he let a through ball pass him without any effort to clear it. This allowed Stephan El Shaarawy to pick up the ball unchallenged and score his second of the night. It is difficult to say what the defender was thinking and it will be an error that Antonio Conte won’t forget in a hurry.

Chelsea have a lot of options at centre-back and for that reason, Rudiger will be fearing for his place. Cesar Azpilicueta is arguably the team’s most reliable defender, but he was used at right wing-back today. Meanwhile, Andreas Christensen has a lot of potential and could be afforded another opportunity as a result of the German’s poor performance against Roma. The mistake came at an awful time for the Premier League side as it allowed the hosts to take a two-goal lead into half-time.

Stephan El Shaarawy reminded the world of his talent

The Italian had long been tipped for greatness since breaking through at AC Milan. However, he failed to kick on at the San Siro before a disappointing loan spell with Monaco saw him move back to Italy as he joined Roma. The attacker scored an excellent first goal from distance to give the side an early lead before adding to his tally with a smart finish before half-time. This match-winning display came just days after his winner against Bologna in Serie A.

At the age of 25, there is still time for the Italian international to develop into a great player in Serie A and in European competition. He will be full of confidence after his success during the last few days and seems ready to establish himself in the Roma team. Mo Salah was a big loss to the side during the summer, but they now have a player with enough quality to step up and replace him. The next step will be for the player to show consistency and truly emerge as one of the club’s most important players.

Chelsea miss N’Golo Kante

The midfielder has been a winner since arriving in England, having won back-to-back Premier League titles with Leicester City and Chelsea. It seemed too simplistic to attribute both triumphs to Kante being in the side, but the Foxes’ decline last season and the recent struggles at Stamford Bridge underline the quality of the French international. He has missed the entirety of October and the Blues don’t look the same side without him, as they are conceding too many clear-cut chances and failing to dominate matches.

It is extremely difficult to play with a two-man midfield and to succeed, it needs to have the right blend of individuals. Kante’s relentless energy and ball-winning ability makes him perfect for it, but Chelsea don’t have a like-for-like replacement for him, which is why their results have been poor during his absence. They have conceded 11 goals in six matches without the Frenchman and kept only one clean sheet, which came against a Bournemouth side that showed little attacking intent. The midfielder will return soon, but Conte needs to find a way of playing without the 26-year-old as they are currently reliant on him.

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