The years have clearly not yet taken their toll on Andrea Pirlo, who remains Italy’s imperious midfield maestro. As comfortable playing just in front of the defence as he is carrying out more advanced duties, he is completely two-footed, endowed with fantastic vision, and capable of making incredibly accurate passes. He is also a remarkable free-kick taker.

 

Pirlo started out at Brescia, making his Serie A debut against Reggina during season 1994/95, two days after his 16th birthday. Transferred to Inter Milan, he struggled to hold down a first-team slot, and was sent out on loan to Reggina and then Brescia.

 

After moving to rivals AC Milan in 2001, he spent a season finding his feet before being asked by Carlo Ancelotti to play in front of the defence, ably supported in midfield by Gennaro Gattuso and Clarence Seedorf.

 

The gamble paid off, and he would go on to excel in the deep-lying playmaker position – in which he was positioned in the same area of the pitch as a classic defensive midfielder but able to use balls cleared by the rearguard in order to turn defence into attack more speedily – for the rest of his career.

 

This tactical approach brought great success to I Rossoneri, where he became practically irreplaceable. Former Brazil coach Carlos Alberto Parreira put his finger on Pirlo’s exact role by defining it as having “a Zico in front of the defence.”

 

In the space of nine years, the Italian midfield man secured two UEFA Champions League titles, a FIFA Club World Cup, the Serie A Championship, two UEFA Super Cups and an Italian Cup

 

At international level, the dead-ball specialist gradually made his way up through Italy’s various youth teams. He spent four seasons performing for the U-21 side, scoring 16 goals in 46 encounters, winning the UEFA European U-21 Championship in 2000 and earning a bronze medal at the Olympics in 2004.

 

At the age of 23, he was handed his maiden cap by Giovanni Trapattoni in 2002, but he had to wait two more years until the second fixture of UEFA EURO 2004 before establishing himself as one of the first names on the teamsheet.


Trilli Campanellino (Italian for ‘Tinkerbell’), as he was nicknamed by his team-mates, enjoyed his greatest triumph at the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™, where he was voted Man of the Match in the duels with Ghana, Germany and France in the Final.

 

After competing in Italy’s three group matches at UEFA EURO 2008, he was suspended for the ultimately unsuccessful quarter-final clash with Spain. An injury kept his involvement in his country’s South Africa 2010 debacle to a minimum, as he made just a brief second-half appearance in the third and final pool match.

 

At the end of the 2010/11 campaign, he left Milan after ten years of loyal service in order to embark on a new adventure with Antonio Conte’s Juventus, with whom he has claimed consecutive league titles.

 

Soon after taking the reins of the national team, Cesare Prandelli made Pirlo his vice-captain behind Gianluigi Buffon, and Pirlo paid him back by performing superbly at UEFA EURO 2012, picking up three further Man of the Match awards from the six matches in which he played. Despite his advancing years, he remains the key man for Italy.