ReJUVEnated: Pirlo's Italian renaissance down to Turin switch
09:29 GMT, 28 June 2012
He has been on top of his game throughout, never more so than against England, but Andrea Pirlo did not dare give the European Championships so much as a passing thought 12 months ago.
Disillusioned by an injury-disrupted campaign at AC Milan, and sensing he was no longer wanted by coach Massimiliano Allegri or influential chief executive Adriano Galliani, he was more concerned about salvaging his club career than adding to his 80 Italy caps.
As he looked round for a new challenge, at just turned 32 and with his best days apparently behind him, takers seemed few and far between. Up the road in Turin, though, Giuseppe Marotta had a hunch.
Raring to go: Andrea Pirlo (right) will attempt to fire Italy into the final
‘We had put together a good young team and appointed Antonio Conte as coach, but we still needed something extra,’ said Juventus’ chief executive. ‘We wanted a player with a strong personality for the dressing room. Someone who had won many titles and could teach our younger players how to do the same and also how to react when things went against them. Who better than Andrea Pirlo’
Marotta backed his judgement with a contract offer worth three million euros a year over three seasons, and the rest, as opposed to Pirlo’s playing days, is history.
After scoring only once and contributing to just three other goals, in his farewell season at the San Siro, he topped the Serie A assists table, with 13, as Juve secured their first Scudetto in nine years. Marginalised at Milan 12 months earlier, he walked into the Serie A team of the year, just as he did the Italy starting line-up for a Euro ’12 campaign that reaches the semi-final stage against Germany on Thursday night.
Main man: Pirlo (right) controlled the midfield against England last Sunday
Should he replicate the form that kept England on the back foot, in Sunday’s one-sided quarter-final, an already decorated career could be heading for one last highlight. It would be some achievement for a 33-year old, but he knows where the spark came from.
‘What happened with Milan last year wasn’t just their mistake,’ he said. ‘It was down to me as well, because I reached the stage where I felt I needed a new motivation. I needed something to refresh my career, and Juventus was perfect.
‘Here was a young team, set up to recapture past glories at a club with a fantastic tradition. It was the ideal incentive to go into training each day and work at putting the plan into action. You could see it taking shape, and it gave me back my desire to find my best form again.’
If there were doubts in some quarters about the wisdom of a three-year contract for a 30-something Milan cast-off, Conte had none.
Reborn: Pirlo at Juventus
‘He has been the ultimate professional from day one,’ said the Juve coach. ‘He is in a class of his own, and the difference between his type and players who are merely good is their attitude.
‘Before he’d even played his first game, he came to see me and spoke at great length about how I intended using him. He wanted to know what I expected from him, where he would be operating on the pitch and how the team would be set up. It became quite technical at times, but he understood everything I said.
‘In my experience, there are very few players who can so easily grasp every detail of your tactical concept. Pirlo wants to know everything, and he even corrects me sometimes. When I tell him how we are going to do something, he will occasionally say: “No, why don’t we do it this way” Often, his proposal makes sense, and I take it on board, but if I disagree, he accepts that I have the final say.
‘He is not just a great player but a deep thinker about the game. He doesn’t say much in the dressing room, but when he speaks, the others listen. He has that aura about him.’
Coaching sounds an obvious next step, but Pirlo is unsure. ‘I’m not too enamoured with all the pressure that goes with it,’ he said. ‘My father runs a couple of steel factories in Brescia, so maybe I’ll go into his business. Maybe, when I hang up my boots, I will leave football altogether.’