Tag Archives: mission

Rory McIlroy plans humanitarian mission to Haiti

McIlroy plans humanitarian mission to Haiti during build-up to Masters

By
Graeme Yorke

PUBLISHED:

15:14 GMT, 25 March 2013

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UPDATED:

15:14 GMT, 25 March 2013

Rory McIlroy will spend part of his week before the Masters on a humanitarian mission in Haiti.

McIlroy says he will meet with children and their families April 1 and 2 to see how their lives have changed since the 2010 earthquake that ravaged the country. McIlroy also made a trip to Haiti before going to the U.S. Open in 2011. He won his first major at Congressional with a record score.

Heading back: McIlroy will return to Haiti, where he spent time in 2011

Heading back: McIlroy will return to Haiti, where he spent time in 2011 following the disastrous earthquake

Laying low: McIlroy has been spending time with his girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki in Florida

Laying low: McIlroy has been spending time with his girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki in Florida

Laying low: McIlroy has been spending time with his girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki in Florida

McIlroy is an Ireland ambassador to UNICEF and has geared his own charity work toward children.

The 23-year-old from Northern Ireland says he is excited to return. He calls Haiti an inspiring and humbling country where children face daily struggles. McIlroy says he hopes his presence can create international awareness of the plight Haitian children are facing.

Out on the range: McIlroy rocked up at a local course to hit some ball on the driving range

Out on the range: McIlroy recently rocked up at a local course in Miami to hit some ball on the driving range

Out on the range: McIlroy rocked up at a local course to hit some ball on the driving range

Arsenal join Newcastle United, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur in race to sign Saint-Etienne striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

Arsenal join race to sign 15m-rated 'African Neymar' Aubameyang after scouting mission

By
John Drayton

PUBLISHED:

10:38 GMT, 10 March 2013

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UPDATED:

10:38 GMT, 10 March 2013

Arsenal have joined Chelsea, Newcastle and Tottenham in the race to sign Saint-Etienne striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, a player dubbed 'the African Neymar.'

The club's scout, Gilles Grimandi, had a close look at Aubameyang in the 2-2 draw with Rennes on Friday night, in which the Gabon player scored his 16th goal of the season.

Good impression: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored for Saint-Etienne on Friday night in front of a number of Premier League scouts

Good impression: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored for Saint-Etienne on Friday night in front of a number of Premier League scouts

Prospect: Arsenal have joined Chelsea, Spurs and Newcastle in the race to sign the 15m-rated Gabon striker

Prospect: Arsenal have joined Chelsea, Spurs and Newcastle in the race to sign the 15m-rated Gabon striker

Already highly-regarded in France, Aubameyang has moved onto the radar of a number of Premier League sides, many of whom have sent over scouts to watch him.

Arsene Wenger is expected to deploy Grimandi and chief scout Steve Rowley to more Saint-Etienne matches before the end of the campaign, as Arsenal ponder a 10m move.

Newcastle came close to signing the 23-year-old in the January transfer window, only for the French club to reject their bid as they hold out for a 15m fee in the summer.

Celebration: Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger sent trusted scout Gilles Grimandi to watch Aubameyang on Friday

Celebration: Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger sent trusted scout Gilles Grimandi to watch Aubameyang on Friday

Thibaut Courtois thinks he will replace Petr Cech at Chelsea in 2015

Courtois: Give me two years and I'll oust Cech as Chelsea No 1

By
Frank Foster

PUBLISHED:

17:05 GMT, 19 February 2013

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UPDATED:

17:28 GMT, 19 February 2013

On-loan goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois believes he will wear the number one jersey at Stamford Bridge in 2015.

With Chelsea's current first choice keeper Petr Cech showing no signs of a dip in form, the statement certainly reveals the confidence of the Belgian international.

Courtios is currently on his second season-long loan at Athletico Madrid and has been in magnificent form since replacing David De Gea at the Vicente Calderon.

Man on a mission: Thibaut Courtois claims he will be ready to replace Petr Cech in 2015

Man on a mission: Thibaut Courtois claims he will be ready to replace Petr Cech in 2015

But the 20-year-old has been reassured by Chelsea that he is not for sale despite their reported interest in Jack Butland in January before his move to Stoke City.

‘Cech is one of the best goalkeepers
in the world, and I think I am an up and coming young talent with the
quality maybe also to play for Chelsea,' Courtois told the Evening Standard.

'They will continue with Cech for two more years, I believe.

Still going strong: Cech was heroic in Cheslea's Champions League final penalty shootout in May

Still going strong: Cech was heroic in Cheslea's Champions League final penalty shootout in May

'The problem is I think that Chelsea didn’t expect me to be at this level this soon. I’ve developed really quickly. It’s a very good situation for Chelsea.'

When quizzed about reports he would be used a makeweight as part of a deal to bring in Colombian striker Ramadel Falcao in the summer, he said: 'A lot of things the press say are nonsense. They are guessing.

'They know Chelsea want Falcao but Chelsea have told me, “The last thing we want to do is sell you”. Maybe they are lying to me but I don’t think so.

Speculation: Courtois believes the prospect of him being used in a deal for Chelsea to sign Ramadel Falcao is pure fiction

Speculation: Courtois believes the prospect of him being used in a deal for Chelsea to sign Ramadel Falcao is pure fiction

'It was strange joining Chelsea but when I signed for them I knew I would be loaned out to a team. They had a five-year plan for me.

'I only went to Chelsea to take my medical. I then went straight to Atletico and had a good year so I preferred to stay for another year.'

Chelsea must now consider how best to manage the young Belgian's development whilst Cech remains at the peak of his powers.

The Czech stopper penned a new contract in May that will keep him at Stamford Bridge until 2016, one year before Courtois plans to oust him as the undisputed first choice.

Real Madrid take on Real Sociedad in La Liga

Mission impossible Madrid face daunting challenge to close 16-POINT gap on rivals Barcelona

By
John Drayton

PUBLISHED:

13:07 GMT, 5 January 2013

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UPDATED:

13:33 GMT, 5 January 2013

Real Madrid will start what many believe to be mission impossible when the Primera Division restarts for them tomorrow.

Jose Mourinho's side take on Real Sociedad with the gap between them and leaders Barcelona standing at 16 points.

For even the most ardent Madrid fan, a successful title defence would appear to be impossible, with the Champions League now the primary focus.

Back in action: Real Madrid train ahead of their match with Real Sociedad

Back in action: Real Madrid train ahead of their match with Real Sociedad

According to defender Alvaro Arbeloa, though, they just have to carry on as normal.

'Real Sociedad are in their best form and it is going to be a difficult match, but we will go into it with desire and belief.

'I just want to win all of our matches from now until the end of the season.'

One sideshow will be who Mourinho starts in goal. There was uproar before Christmas when the Portuguese opted to sit out Iker Casillas and go with Antonio Adam playing in the loss to Malaga.

'The fans will support Real Madrid because they are fans of Real Madrid and not just of Casillas,' said Arbeloa, trying to play down any possible rows.

'It is important that they support the players, but also that they support the team. Whoever plays will have the support of his team-mates.'

Speculation: Jose Mourinho could leave Real Madrid in the summer

Speculation: Jose Mourinho could leave Real Madrid in the summer

The lure of a third Champions League title is thought to be driving Mourinho on this season, while the Copa del Rey still remains an option.

Arbeloa does not look at it that way, however, and wants every game to be treated the same.

'If this team wants to win trophies, it is impossible to do that without competing and giving everything in La Liga, and so it is difficult to give everything in the Copa,' he said.

'You cannot pick one day to play well and relax on other days.

'I would just aim to win all the matches. It could be that the Champions League is an easier objective than La Liga, but we are not a team that goes onto the pitch without giving our all every weekend and then does in the Champions League.

Rested: Madrid return after the winter break 16 points behind Barcelona

Rested: Madrid return after the winter break 16 points behind Barcelona

'We have to face all the challenges in our path and to do that you have to win in all the competitions.'

Sociedad head to the capital upwardly mobile. They are seventh in the table and have been producing some eye-catching performances under Philippe Montanier.

Some have backed them to spring a surprise and, although he will not call this a chance, Sociedad midfielder David Zurutuza does acknowledge there have been worse times to play Madrid.

'I don't think there is any good moment to visit the Bernabeu, but yes, if I had to choose a time it would be now, because they are missing important players,' he said.

Marcus Townend: Broadcast challenge for new kings Channel 4

Marcus Townend: Channel 4 face one helluva broadcast challenge in replacing the BBC

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UPDATED:

22:00 GMT, 25 December 2012

How ironic that the final BBC racing broadcast at abandoned Chepstow will not even manage to make it out of the starting stalls.

Leaving the sport with not even a whimper seems appropriate for an organisation whose divorce from racing has been coming for a long time.

The faces in front of camera soldiered on but the BBC television executives above them steadily lost interest, their mood not helped by the period when they were paying for their dwindling rights and Channel 4 was being handed cheques by the sport to keep its cameras rolling.

Changing of the guard: Clare Balding will be the new face of Channel 4 racing

Changing of the guard: Clare Balding will be the new face of Channel 4 racing

The landscape was transformed when bookmakers were allowed to start advertising on television and suddenly a live broadcast from Sandown became much more than merely an expensive, work-intensive option to another repeat of The Sound of Music.

Channel 4’s interest surged. Make no mistake, they have not signed a four-year deal for the terrestrial racing rights simply because they are in love with the sport.
It would be easy to drift away on sentimental memories but the truth is that the new

Channel 4 racing coverage has the potential to innovate and excite.

When cricket took the same journey from BBC to Channel 4, the station impressed with its refreshing new approach.

No show: Chepstow races which was due to the the last meet shown on the BBC has been postponed due to the weather

No show: Chepstow races which was due to the the last meet shown on the BBC has been postponed due to the weather

A re-jigged team of pundits line up under the leadership of the BBC’s transferred Clare Balding —not a bad signing given her current standing in the post-Olympics world of sports broadcasting. The new squad could have been more radical but it will be the attitude and tone set by their masters that is all important and early mission statements look promising.

Channel 4 looks enthused by their new venture and that, in contrast to the BBC’s attitude, has the capacity to shine through on screen.
Of course, adverts for the first time during the Grand National or at Royal Ascot will grate but longer programmes and less races will make the shows feel less like a mad dash through betting opportunities.

The BBC has a huge archive of racing memories — Red Rum at the 1977 Sports Personality of the Year show; Bing Crosby appearing on Grandstand on the day in the 1970s when the chaser Uncle Bing won and Frankie Dettori’s magnificent seven at Ascot in 1996.

But the baton has been passed on and it might not be a bad thing. A challenge has been set Channel 4. We will see in the coming weeks and months how well it does.

Michael Owen out to end drought against Liverppol

Owen wants the monkey off his back as he targets first ever goal against Liverpool on Boxing Day

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UPDATED:

19:39 GMT, 25 December 2012

Stoke striker Michael Owen has plenty of happy memories from his time at Liverpool, but does not look back too fondly on the occasions he has played against them.

The former England international enjoyed the most prolific days of his career at Liverpool, where he came through the youth ranks.

Since leaving the Reds in 2004 though, he has failed to score a single goal against them and Owen admits he has rarely had much fun when being on the opposing team.

Man on a mission: Michael Owen is desperate for the chance to get at his old team Liverpool

Man on a mission: Michael Owen is desperate for the chance to get at his old team Liverpool

The 33-year-old will be hoping the trend changes on Boxing Day when the Potters host Liverpool in the Barclays Premier League, a game in which he could make his first Stoke appearance since October 27 having overcome a hamstring problem.

Owen – who departed Anfield for Real Madrid and moved on to Newcastle and Manchester United before joining Stoke this season – told Independent Sports News: 'It is a strange feeling really playing against your old club, especially one where you were there for around 15 years.

'Liverpool are a big part of my life and career and I had some of the best times of my life at the club.

'So certainly I have happy memories. I have not been so happy playing against them since; I have never scored and not particularly enjoyed it.'

Stoke, currently ninth in the table, head into the clash with eighth-placed Liverpool in fine form.

Where the heart is: Owen was lethal at Liverpool but has struggled since leaving

Where the heart is: Owen was lethal at Liverpool but has struggled since leaving

Where the heart is: Owen was lethal at Liverpool but has struggled since leaving

Tony Pulis' men are unbeaten in their last eight matches and Owen is optimistic they can keep the run going.

'I don't see any reason why not,' Owen said. 'We had a really tough start to the season and we picked up points against some of the big teams.

'Then we went into a period of games where you would look at them on paper and say we had a chance of picking up points, and we have duly done that.

'We are on a nice run of form. Every game is tough in the Premier League, but there is no reason why we can't continue it.'

Sandro thinks Tottenham can win the title

Sandro believes Spurs can pip City and United to title despite being 13 points off the pace

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UPDATED:

11:28 GMT, 15 December 2012

Tottenham midfielder Sandro believes his side have a chance of winning the Premier League this season – despite having lost six of their 16 games so far.

The Brazil international’s team currently sit in fifth in the division and are already 13 points off the league leaders Manchester United.

But Sandro thinks that if they work hard enough and other teams slip up, Andre Villas-Boas’ side can prise the title away from either United or champions Manchester City.

Focused: Sandro thinks Spurs could win the Premier League

Focused: Sandro thinks Spurs could win the Premier League

Spurs defeated United at Old Trafford earlier in the season, and were beaten by a late Edin Dzeko goal at City, but both sides still have to travel to White Hart Lane later in the season.

‘It’s very open,’ he told the Daily Mirror. ‘Every team has weaknesses. Every team loses. Manchester City have lost their unbeaten record, we’ve gone up to United and won there.’

He added: ‘Both Manchester teams can come to Tottenham and lose here. I’ll fight for the title while there is a possibility of winning. My ambition, every player’s ambition, is to live for success, for trophies.’

‘While we can still catch the teams above us we are going to play for the title. It’s an ambition, a dream. We just have to fight for it.’

Man on a mission: Andre-Villas Boas was sacked by Chelsea last season

Man on a mission: Andre-Villas Boas was sacked by Chelsea last season

Star man: Gareth Bale has been in top form this season

Star man: Gareth Bale has been in top form this season

Wes Thomas gets revenge on Ian Holloway

On the road: Ollie gets payback for an old rejection as Blackpool scrape point

By
Riath Al-samarrai

PUBLISHED:

22:35 GMT, 9 December 2012

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UPDATED:

22:35 GMT, 9 December 2012

It's a hell of a thing to carry a grudge for seven years against a man who doesn’t recall ever having met you.

Wes Thomas wasn’t shy last week in talking about the deeper meaning to his appearance on Saturday for Blackpool against Crystal Palace.

He had a score to settle with Ian Holloway, he said — and to judge from his bulging eyeballs as he mocked Palace’s fans 89 minutes into the game, he felt the mission was successful.

Revenge mission: Wes Thomas was released by Ian Holloway at QPR

Revenge mission: Wes Thomas was released by Ian Holloway at QPR

Blackpool’s striker, borrowed from Bournemouth three weeks ago, had just created the late equaliser for Nouha Dicko with a delightful run and cross from the right. For Blackpool it meant a point from a 2-2 draw; for Palace it meant two dropped in pursuit of Cardiff.

For Thomas it meant a smidgen of revenge against the man in charge when he was cut from QPR’s youth ranks as an 18-year-old.

‘Ian Holloway is the one who released me when I was at QPR, so Saturday is a game I’m really looking forward to,’ Thomas had said ahead of the match. ‘I took it quite hard. It’s my chance to show Holloway I’m back.’

Thomas, 25, went on to speak about the pain of rejection, the uncertainty he felt as he fought his way back to the professional game via Waltham Forest, Fisher Athletic and various other non-League sides. It was a touching tale.

Alas, Holloway said: ‘Don’t know him at all. But he looks a good player.’

Thomas would have stood out to Holloway even if he was lousy. Of the 14 players Blackpool used on Saturday, Thomas was the only one who did not work under Holloway in his three-and-a-half years at Bloomfield Road, a relationship that ended on November 3 amid some mystery.

Holloway’s line has been that he
fancied a fresh challenge and a move back to his family in the south;
others suggest he was unhappy with elements of his rolling contract.

Familiar faces: Ian Holloway welcomed his old side to Selhurst Park

Familiar faces: Ian Holloway welcomed his old side to Selhurst Park

What was initially presented as an amicable split — or as amicable as these things ever are — has recently evolved via insider testimonies into something a little more strained.

Ian Evatt did not play for Blackpool on Saturday because of a knee problem but he was there through Holloway’s best years in management, when he took them up to the Premier League in 2010, came within a whisker of keeping them there, and then reached the play-off final last season.

Evatt’s still there now, playing under Michael Appleton and a fortnight ago offered an intriguing and alarming insight into the final months of the Holloway regime. ‘I think we both needed a change,’ Evatt said. ‘In the last couple of months, we hadn’t really done much training. We had numerous days off — anything from two to five or six at a time.

‘It was as surprising to the lads as
anyone else. We’re an honest bunch of players and we want to work hard,
but at times we weren’t doing that.’

For their part, the Blackpool fans were largely respectful.

They clapped Holloway on and they
clapped him off. But in between, when Blackpool took the lead through
Nathan Delfouneso, they sang: ‘Ollie, Ollie, what’s the score’

‘They weren’t singing that when we went 2-1 up,’ Holloway said later.

Party time: Michael Appleton celebrates after Blackpool equalise

Party time: Michael Appleton celebrates after Blackpool equalise

There was an element of anger in his tone but not as much as he reserved for a member of Appleton’s staff.

‘I didn’t like the reaction of one of the men on their bench,’ he said. ‘One of the new fellas looked straight at me when they equalised. It’s a war out there, and I carried my shield very proudly.

‘He didn’t stare me out. No one can stare me out. I know Michael wouldn’t have done something like that. He’s got more about him than that. But I didn’t look round at them when we scored, did I

‘I was at Blackpool a long time and had great times, but you have to move on.’

Easier said than done. Just ask Wes.

Whither Wilfried now

Where will Wilfried go next It’s a question Stephen Crainey, Blackpool’s left back, struggled with for the better part of 90 minutes on Saturday.

It was not Zaha’s best game for Palace — not by a long shot — but most of his errors only came after he skinned his marker and had plenty of time to decide what to do next.

He really is a wonderfully exciting talent and one with a very bright future. But the feeling is that Saturday’s performance, in particular during the second half, was better than most he has managed since his England call-up to face Sweden last month.

Waiting game: Wilfried Zaha (right) has a number of Premier League admirers

Waiting game: Wilfried Zaha (right) has a number of Premier League admirers

Holloway seems to blame the dip on speculation surrounding the 20-year-old, with some reports claiming Arsenal are close to signing him, while one on Sunday said Manchester United are preparing a 10million January move that would see Zaha loaned back to Palace for the rest of the season.

Holloway said: ‘The last thing we need is for him to get confused about how good he is and what he can do. He just has to start concentrating on what he was doing well this year.’

Crainey will testify that he’s very close to finding his best form again.

By the way…

It's clear AFC Wimbledon were right to be wary of the hype surrounding the FA Cup clash with MK Dons. They know their real challenge lies in League Two, and their failure to win on Saturday leaves them just one point clear of the relegation zone.

Andrea Pirlo exclusive: I discussed personal terms with Chelsea

EXCLUSIVE: Peerless Pirlo! Juventus maestro opens up as he eyes another scalp

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UPDATED:

00:00 GMT, 19 November 2012

Man on a mission: Andrea Pirlo

Man on a mission: Andrea Pirlo

Andrea Pirlo breaks into a wry smile as the interpreter translates a question he must have known was coming.

So how close was he to joining his old manager Carlo Ancelotti at Chelsea three years ago, before AC Milan declared that the man now regarded as the best playmaker in the history of Italian football was not for sale

The answer, once the smile fades and Pirlo decides to speak about it for the first time, is very close indeed.

Not only were the two clubs in negotiation, Pirlo himself was sufficiently certain of following Ancelotti to Stamford Bridge that he had opened talks with Chelsea over personal terms.

Despite later expressing his delight at the ‘mutual’ decision to keep him in Milan, the truth was rather different.

‘Actually, Milan wouldn’t let me go,’ he now reveals. ‘I have a very strong connection with Ancelotti so I was in touch with him when he went to Chelsea and I’m still in touch with him now he’s at Paris Saint-Germain.

‘I had already started negotiating with the people at Chelsea but then finally Milan didn’t let me go. That’s why I stayed.

‘Certainly it would have been a different experience that I’d have liked, especially when I was 30 years old. So why not But unfortunately it didn’t happen.’

Now 33 and playing for Juventus, Pirlo almost seems to get better with age. Has the opportunity to play in England gone, or could he still come to the Premier League

‘Maybe, who knows’ There’s that smile again. ‘I don’t know what might happen. You never know. I still have two years left with Juventus, this season and next.

‘I like English football a lot. There are plenty of very good teams. They are very aggressive so it’s always entertaining to watch.

‘It wouldn’t be a problem for me fitting into that particular style because I’ve played with different players with different characteristics throughout my career.’

Be by your side: Pirlo has enjoyed a strong relationship with Carlo Ancelotti throughout his career

Be by your side: Pirlo has enjoyed a strong relationship with Carlo Ancelotti throughout his career

Be by your side: Pirlo has enjoyed a strong relationship with Carlo Ancelotti throughout his career

In Turin on Tuesday night, Pirlo faces the club he so nearly joined knowing that, realistically, Juve must beat Chelsea to progress in the Champions League.

They trail the European champions by one point and are away to Shakhtar Donetsk in their last game while Chelsea face Nordsjaelland at Stamford Bridge.

‘Absolutely,’ he says. ‘We have to fight hard because it wouldn’t be great going into the final match still one point behind. This is a vital game for us and them. There are great expectations.’

Kiev. June 24, 2012. As England chase shadows around the Olympic Stadium, a 33-year-old who looks like he’s 43 and plays like he’s 23 puts on another masterclass. The vision, the movement, the passing; Pirlo is simply on another level.

Roy Hodgson’s side are lucky to take a Euro 2012 quarter-final to extra time and a shootout.

As if to underline his total superiority, Pirlo dinks an outrageous penalty over Joe Hart. It’s known as il cucchiaio in Italian football. The spoon. Pirlo has been practising it since he was a kid at Brescia.

‘It’s a duel,’ he says. ‘The keeper has an idea and you have an idea, so you have to come up with the right reaction. It depends on the situation.

Running rings: Pirlo was the orchestrator of England's downfall at Euro 2012

Running rings: Pirlo was the orchestrator of England's downfall at Euro 2012

ANDREA PIRLO ON…

His favourite English player: Wayne Rooney. He’s the complete footballer.

His favourite English team: It used to be Manchester United and then Chelsea when Ancelotti was there. Now it’s Manchester City because they have an Italian coach in Roberto Mancini.

Mario Balotelli: He has a particular personality, but if you handle him the right way he’s definitely a good boy.

The wonder goal by his old AC Milan team-mate Zlatan Ibrahimovic against England: He scored four amazing goals but the last one was absolutely incredible. He’s a great champion and sometimes he can do things like that. It doesn’t surprise me because he’s such an instinctive player.

The best English players he’s faced
1. Rooney
2. Gerrard
3. Terry
4. Lampard

His top team-mates
1. Maldini
2. Baggio
3. Ronaldo
4. Shevchenko

‘I made the decision right at the last
moment. I was running up to kick the ball and saw the goalkeeper was
moving back and forth so I decided to do the cucchiaio.’

It was a bold move considering that Pirlo’s lowest point in football was losing the 2005 Champions League final to Liverpool on a shootout after Milan had led 3-0 at half-time.

People remember Jerzy Dudek’s decisive penalty save from Andriy Shevchenko but tend to forget that he had already denied Pirlo as well.

‘It was hard to go on after that,’ he says. ‘It was definitely the strangest game I’ve ever been involved in. From that point of view it’s unforgettable.’

If Liverpool’s comeback was cavalier, Chelsea’s Champions League triumph last season was rather less entertaining. So too was England’s negative approach to the quarter-final in Kiev.

It is safe to say that this is not now how one of the greatest exponents of football as an art form likes to see the game played.

‘Obviously Chelsea were successful and able to win the Champions League with their own tactics and style, but yes it’s true this is not the type of football I like,’ says Pirlo.

‘Then England played the whole match against us on defence so we had an opportunity to control the game.’

Cheeky: Pirlo was hailed the world over for his cool, calm and collected penalty in the shootout

Cheeky: Pirlo was hailed the world over for his cool, calm and collected penalty in the shootout

But how did he make England look so ordinary

‘It’s a pleasure to hear that. It’s normal to me but if you think that it’s amazing then all the better. I didn’t expect it to be so easy. I certainly expected England to be much more aggressive.’

So why does the man who helped inspire Italy to win the 2006 World Cup and reach the final of Euro 2012 think England always disappoint at big tournaments

‘Unfortunately these things happen,’ says Pirlo. ‘It happened to Argentina, it happened to England.

‘Maybe some teams can play well in qualifying but when it gets down to the nitty gritty, so to speak, they find it harder. Or maybe some of the players lack character to be able to handle those situations.’

The autumn sun disappears behind the Alps. Darkness descends and floodlights illuminate the two first-team pitches at Juve’s training ground in Vinovo, 20 minutes south-west of Turin.

The smart but unspectacular complex was built six years ago. The new Juventus Stadium opened last year, replacing the Stadio delle Alpi, so it’s fair to say the Old Lady has had a bit of a makeover.

Outside, youth team coach Fabrizio Ravanelli locks a little black Fiat and gets to work. Former Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba, dropped for turning up late for training recently, heads off in a white BMW 6 Series.

Inside, Pirlo has granted Sportsmail a rare interview. He is a notoriously private individual. No dramas, no scandal, just football and life at home with his wife Deborah Roversi and their two children.

He oozes charisma. Not many people could get away with wearing a camouflage blazer, with a pair of designer sunglasses hanging from an unbuttoned denim shirt.

Old Lady luck: Juventus have enjoyed a brilliant upturn in fortunes since Pirlo's arrival

Old Lady luck: Juventus have enjoyed a brilliant upturn in fortunes since Pirlo's arrival

Old Lady luck: Juventus have enjoyed a brilliant upturn in fortunes since Pirlo's arrival

Words are offered thoughtfully but sparingly in a gruff low voice. And yet we’re told the real Pirlo is the dressing-room joker.

‘That’s right,’ he says. ‘People who don’t know me think I’m so serious. I’m a prankster, I like to have fun with the people who know me better.’

Milan let Pirlo go in the summer of 2011. Coach Massimiliano Allegri preferred Dutch stopper Mark van Bommel to play in front of his back four and the younger legs of former Portsmouth midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng and Liverpool flop Alberto Aquilani.

Unforgivably, the man who had won the World Cup, two Champions Leagues and two Italian titles during a decade at the San Siro was allowed to join Juve on a free transfer and signed a three-year deal worth 9.5million.

It’s no coincidence that Juve duly took the Serie A title off Milan and are top again this season (Pirlo’s old club are 17 points behind in 10th).

With the man they call L’Architetto (The Architect) pulling the strings — or Il Metronomo (The Metronome) because of how he dictates the tempo of a game — Juve have lost only two games in more than a year; one in the league to Inter Milan a fortnight ago and last season’s Italian Cup final to Napoli.

‘I came here very motivated to prove I was still in good shape and able to play well,’ says Pirlo, who finished the season with the most assists in Serie A.

Not for the first time in his career, he refused to be written off.

Legend has it that Pirlo is descended from the gypsy people of Sinti. When his grandfather arrived from eastern Europe with little grasp of Italian and tried to register as a citizen, a cruel town hall official mockingly gave him the name Pirla.

‘It means jackass,’ says one Italian football observer. ‘So Pirlo sounds very funny to Italian people. When Andrea made his debut for Brescia at the age of 16 years and two days, all the journalists laughed. They’re not laughing now.’

Like any kid, Andrea grew up playing football in his backyard and with his cousins at their grandmother’s house in the countryside.

He modelled his fabled free-kick technique on his heroes, just as his team-mates at Milan used to line up and watch him in training.

‘Since I was a child I watched tapes of Baggio, Zico and Maradona, and then I tried to replicate them just playing on my own against the wall,’ he says. ‘Certainly it’s talent but you have to cultivate that talent.’

It was back at Brescia on loan at the age of 22 that Pirlo first played in the deep-lying role he was soon to master because there was little chance of replacing the legendary Roberto Baggio at No 10.

Pedigree: Pirlo showed promise as a No 10 early on before shifting to his now famed deep-lying role

Pedigree: Pirlo showed promise as a No 10 early on before shifting to his now famed deep-lying role

Example: Growing up, Pirlo had wanted to be like his idols, Diego Maradona and Roberto Baggio

Example: Growing up, Pirlo had wanted to be like his idols, Diego Maradona and Roberto Baggio

Example: Growing up, Pirlo had wanted to be like his idols, Diego Maradona and Roberto Baggio

Milan boss Ancelotti spotted the potential and signed him from rivals Inter where he was in danger of becoming a wasted talent. Hence his bond with the former Chelsea manager, and Ancelotti’s determination to take him to England.

‘I will thank him forever,’ says Pirlo. ‘From that point my new career started.’

He has developed into one of the finest playmakers in the world.

Italy’s World Cup-winning coach Marcello Lippi called Pirlo his ‘silent leader’. Another former Chelsea boss, Luiz Felipe Scolari, described him as ‘an authentic Brazilian’ because his cool demeanour on the pitch is so un-Italian.

‘It’s true,’ says Pirlo. ‘I’m always very calm in every situation whenever I play. I’m happy to take on responsibility and I’m never stressed for this reason. I just like to be at the centre of the play.

‘I don’t know what my secret is. I’ve always had great fun playing football since I was a child and that’s what I try to do every time I go on the pitch.

‘I hope to play for as long as possible but I don’t just want to be tolerated in the team.

‘When I realise it’s over, it will be over.’

Kevin Nolan: How I rescued Andy Carroll

Nolan: How I rescued Carroll and put him on the right path

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UPDATED:

23:51 GMT, 10 November 2012

Andy Carroll's chief concern is to score his first goal for West Ham but his team-mate, Kevin Nolan, remembers a time when such on-field problems were mere trivialities.

A time when, as a star in the making with Sunday's opponents Newcastle, he needed saving from himself and from the paradox that is Geordie adulation.

Old boys: Former Newcastle duo Andrew Carroll (right) and Kevin Nolan set to return with West Ham

Old boys: Former Newcastle duo Andrew Carroll (right) and Kevin Nolan set to return with West Ham

The 21-year-old home-town hero was self-destructing and it was at then Newcastle skipper Nolan's door – literally – that the problem was dumped in October 2010.

Carroll was charged with assaulting an ex-girlfriend and to secure bail he needed a place of residence instead of living in a hotel awaiting a house purchase. Nolan answered the SOS.

A combination of Carroll's cooking, Nolan's guidance and the unlikeliest of calming figures – Joey Barton – got the tyro back on the right path.

While happy to laugh off his saviour status, Nolan knows only too well the deadly serious role he played in the rescue mission.

'You can write that if you want, “Nolan saves him!” ' he said. 'I just said to him, and he knew himself, that he had got to keep out of them situations.

'At Newcastle when something goes on, it gets exploded 10 times over and with Andy up there it was magnified a thousand times. It was just because it was him, he's a 6ft 5in lad who's got long hair and stands out.

'He'd been brilliant for Newcastle for 15 months, he was the local boy, everything he did was magnified. You'd have to ask Andy if I'd had an influence on it. Of course I'm going to say yes. As a group we had a committee-type of experienced pros with myself, Joey, Alan Smith, Steve Harper, all different backgrounds, voices and opinions.

Hard going: Carroll is still searching for his first West Ham goal

Hard going: Carroll is still searching for his first West Ham goal

'The togetherness of the squad and what we were all like at that time helped Andy dramatically. He bought into it massively and he excelled and he's gone on since and I think he'll just even get better and do better things.'

The recipe for turning a boy into a man was all cooked up in Nolan's kitchen.

'I said he could stay, I cleared it with the missus, of course, first,' added Nolan. 'She was down in Liverpool a lot of the time so we were like room-mates. He was a pretty good cook. Pasta with tomatoes, chicken, things like that.

'Since then he has learned so much. There is a different lad standing in that dressing room now. There is a man who can look after himself and does the right things on a daily basis.'

Carroll, 23, will need the thickest of skins to emerge unscathed from what is a fixture laced with potential animosity. West Ham boss Sam Allardyce has always felt harshly done to regarding his rapid dismissal after eight months in charge of Newcastle.

Carroll is yet to score for West Ham but his last trip back to St James' Park, with parent club Liverpool, ended with the frontman being booked for diving before storming off after being substituted.

Nolan said: 'I am hoping I'll get quite a good reception, I'm sure Andy will get the worst one. I've got a lot of good friends there and I'm looking forward to going back and saying goodbyes to people I didn't have the chance to.

'Once one goes in for Andy, hopefully on Sunday, I am sure they will come. It would be a great time to score in front of the club he has loved since he was a kid.'

Carroll's goal-shy start to life in east London is in stark contrast to Nolan, who has picked up where he left off in the Premier League by scoring four times in 10 games.

And the West Ham midfielder, 30, admits he is angered about never having secured an England cap, especially in a week which saw 31-year-old Leon Osman get a call-up.

'Obviously, when you see Leon Osman, who I'm delighted for, getting a call-up it does tell you not to give up hope but I don't know how much more I could do,' he said. 'It does hurt that I haven't got one. I think I have deserved at least a call-up and a chance to prove myself at that level whether it be at Bolton, Newcastle and even now.

'A former England manager said if he knew everything I was about before he was England manager, he definitely would have called me up, which was nice to hear. But then I sort of wanted to strangle him!'