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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.

Champions League

Liverpool should pursue a swap deal with Emre Can for Sami Khedira

The Juventus midfielder could be tempted to the Premier League this summer.

Josh Kerr



Photo: Getty Images

Liverpool should make Sami Khedira their primary replacement for Emre Can, who is expected to join Juventus on a free transfer at the end of the season.

The German international is coming to the end of his third season with the Serie A outfit after joining from Real Madrid on a free transfer in 2015, with just a year left on his contract.

With the Serie A outfit’s midfield options already at full strength and the likely addition of Can, this summer could lead to a few clear-outs in the middle of the park for Juventus.

This should prompt Jurgen Klopp to pursue his fellow countryman Khedira, who is said to be interested in a move to the Premier League.

Reports from The Sun suggest Liverpool have been ‘alerted’ to Khedira’s availability this summer during negotiations with Juventus over Can.

The 24-year-old midfielder’s deal expires at the end of the season and Liverpool face the serious prospect of losing him on a free.

A move for Khedira would make perfect sense for Jurgen Klopp’s side, who are needing to strengthen a midfield that has endured so many injuries throughout the current campaign.

(Photo by Javier Soriano/Getty Images)

With the addition of Naby Keita, Khedira could prove to be the established central defensive midfielder who allows the Reds midfield three to tick, similar to the role Sergio Busquets plays at Barcelona.

The World Cup-winning midfielder spoke of his fondness for the Premier League in an interview with Bild, saying: “The Premier League has always fascinated me. Winning the title there would complete my collection.”

Liverpool have been breathtaking in Europe this season and Khedira’s experience of winning four-domestic titles in his career could be the addition the Reds need to compete with the dominance of Pep Guardiola and Manchester City.

The German international, who has nine goals and seven assists this season, has one year remaining on his Juventus contract and may be allowed to leave to join the Reds if he desires, with Can likely to join as his ready-made replacement.

Massimiliano Allegri has always possessed a knack for quickly replacing players who have decided they want to leave Juventus, with Fernando Llorente, Carlos Teves, and Paul Pogba all leaving the Italian side in recent years.

Therefore, the likely arrival of Can could be a link to Khedira’s desires to pursue new challenges elsewhere. If so, Liverpool would be the perfect destination for the Juventus midfielder.

The Reds’ high-pressing, all-out, attacking style of play could appeal to the former Real Madrid star, who would undoubtedly be excited by the prospect of joining up with compatriot, Jurgen Klopp, on Merseyside.

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Federico Chiesa could turn out to be the next Lazar Markovic for Liverpool

Jurgen Klopp must be shrewd ahead of an important window for the Reds.

Max Cohen



Federico Chiesa
Photo: Getty Images

Reports this week in the Daily Express and Corriere dello Sport have linked 20-year-old Fiorentina attacker Federico Chiesa with a move to Liverpool, with the Italian in the midst of a superb season in Serie A.

However, the signing of such a young winger in a position where Liverpool already have an abundance of choices would be misguided, as Chiesa would see little first-team action.

The young winger has scored six goals for Fiorentina in his second full season with the Viola. He has also caught the eye of the Italian national team, making his international debut against Argentina in March.

Despite his impressive form, Chiesa would face a massive struggle for appearances in this current star-studded Liverpool attack.

(Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images)

With the Reds boasting the likes of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Adam Lallana, and Dominic Solanke in attacking positions, it is unclear where Chiesa would fit in.

The cautionary tale of Lazar Markovic’s Liverpool career should dissuade the Merseyside club from purchasing the Fiorentina youngster.

Markovic was acquired in similar circumstances back in July 2014, when Liverpool bought the promising winger for 20 million pounds when he was the same age as Chiesa.

Yet the Serbian scored just two league goals in 19 appearances in his debut year and was swiftly loaned out to Fenerbahce the following season.

(Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images)

Three more loan spells for Markovic have followed, at Sporting Lisbon, Hull City, and Anderlecht, where the attacker has failed to make a lasting impression due to injury and lack of form.

If Federico Chiesa makes the switch to Anfield this summer, he could face an unwanted career trajectory similar to Markovic.

Liverpool simply do not need the young Italian, and to sign him from his boyhood club would derail his precious development at a crucial juncture in his career.

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Crystal Palace

Could Juventus’ Mario Mandzukic be the perfect man for Crystal Palace?

The Croatian striker scored twice in Juventus’ Champions League win over Real Madrid.

Max Cohen



Mario Mandzukic
Photo: Getty Images

31-year-old Juventus striker Mario Mandzukic turned back the clock on Wednesday night with a remarkable two-goal display against defending European champions Real Madrid.

If Crystal Palace maintain their Premier League status, then Mandzukic could prove the perfect man to solve their striker problems.

In the days leading up to the match, reports in Italian outlet Tuttosport, as referenced by Football Italia and Goal in Germanyhad linked the Croatian striker with a transfer to the Chinese Super League, claiming that Juventus were prepared to let him leave in the summer.

Yet the experienced striker has shown he still possesses the quality to perform at the highest level, evidenced by his dominating quarterfinal display. Two first-half towering headers revealed the forward’s predatory instincts, ability to latch on to crosses, and knack for powerful finishes.

A move to China, in essence still a glorified amateur league, would represent a dramatic step down for Mandzukic far too soon in his career. Only in his early 30s, the striker still has a number of productive seasons left in the tank and can adapt his game to accommodate his age.

Mario Mandzukic

His arrival at Selhurst Park would fill the gap that the Eagles have had at centre-forward for a number of years. The misfiring Christian Benteke has failed to impress this term, passing up many a golden opportunity.

Mandzukic would add a lethal touch to the multitude of crosses Roy Hodgson’s side tend to swing in, benefiting from Andros Townsend and Wilfried Zaha’s wicked deliveries.

Although the transfer may appear ridiculous, to begin with, Palace have a proud recent history of signing players from Europe’s top clubs. Yohan Cabaye joined from Paris Saint Germain, Mamadou Sakho and Benteke joined from Liverpool, and Jairo Riedewald was brought in from Ajax.

The acquisition of Mandzukic would be a brilliant coup for the Eagles and propel them to the upper half of the table next season.

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