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.