AC Milan’s midfield string-puller-in-chief for some ten years, Andrea Pirlo certainly caused something of a stir this summer when leaving I Rossoneri for Serie A rivals Juventus. Making the switch even more piquant was the fact that the Italian international, a FIFA World Cup™ winner in 2006, was out of contract and cost Juve nothing in transfer fees.
“It’s the bargain of the century for us. Seeing him play in front of my backline, it made me realise that God does exist,” said his new club-mate Gianluigi Buffon, another key member of that triumphant Nazionale squad at Germany 2006, on a player who has to date won 72 senior caps and scored nine goals for his country.
Drawing a line under his time in Milan must have been tough for the 32-year-old, whose role as a deep-lying playmaker and ball-winner was a vital cog in the red-and-black machine. A veteran of 401 matches for the club, Pirlo collected two UEFA Champions League crowns, two Serie A titles and one FIFA Club World Cup success, among a host of other winners’ medals.
Yet after spending much of last season on the treatment table, the midfield schemer decided the moment was ripe for a fresh challenge and Italian football’s Vecchia Signora welcomed him to Turin with open arms. Three months on, during which Pirlo has already proved he has lost none of his world-class ability, the quietly spoken superstar generously made time for an interview with FIFA.com.
FIFA.com: Andrea, Michel Platini once said about you that “if Pirlo’s on song, everything else falls into place”. How are you enjoying life in your new club’s shirt?
Andrea Pirlo: I feel very comfortable. The Juventus shirt is steeped in years of success and tradition. Pulling it on gives me a genuine sense of pride after so many years wearing the Milan jersey, which is similarly steeped in history and tradition. I’m very pleased, happy even.
You were part of the furniture at AC Milan, enjoying key-player status as a fans’ favourite. What made you decide to leave?
My contract was coming to an end and I felt the need to seek out new challenges, to win things in another club’s shirt. I think that I needed to move on. You know, after nine or ten seasons with the same club you can find yourself losing your motivation, not having the same level of desire. I’m the one who made the decision: I wanted to experience something new. Right from the moment I arrived at Juve, I could immediately sense the club’s will to win, their determination to go as far as possible as quickly as possible. The coach, the club and the players are all on the same wavelength. From my personal experience, I think we’ve got all the ingredients for success. No other club would have been able to meet my expectations so well. Juve want to reign in Italy and Europe once more and that’s a challenge I want to be part of.
How is your relationship with new boss Antonio Conte, who was as iconic a player for Juventus as you were at AC Milan?
Very good. His footballing philosophy reminds me a little of Carlo Ancelotti, but he’s very similar to Marcello Lippi in the way he goes about his business. He sees the team as a unit that should always stay compact, and he believes that we shouldn’t get obsessed with moving the ball too quickly, as unless your technical ability is faultless that can often lead to mistakes.
Given that you started out as a conventional No10, which coach had the inspirational idea to position you as a deep-lying playmaker?
The idea came from Carlo Ancelotti, and I think that I was one of the first players to play that role out on the pitch. I don’t know if I’d call myself a pioneer, but from a tactical point of view it’s clear that playing in that role allows me to dictate the tempo of the whole team, to set the pace of the game. I feel particularly at home in the position. And it’s true that, even when I was just starting out (and playing as a No10), I tended to drift deep to get hold of the ball. That’s perhaps the reason why I feel so good in this position.
Would it be fair to say that playing in a deeper role is also a better fit for your personality, since you’re quite a reserved character? Playmakers tend to be in the spotlight more...
I’m quite simply a totally normal guy. And once I’m away from the pitch or the dressing room that’s where it ends for me, the rest is nobody else’s business. I’ve had the extremely good fortune to be able to do what I love most in the world for a job. But at the same time, because of the way I am, I’ve always been able to keep my feet on the ground – thanks to the help of my family and those closest to me.
As a former No10, can you explain why fewer and fewer teams deploy someone in that role?
There are a few youngsters coming through in that position, but coaches nowadays are looking for other characteristics – such as physical strength and speed. They matter, no doubt, but they're not the be-all and end-all.
Johan Cruyff once said that “Pirlo can make his feet do whatever he wants. He’s a genius.” How does it feel to hear that?
It is possible that I was born with a particular gift. But I still wouldn't have got to this level without a lot of hard work and sacrifice. I’m a fan of players with strong personalities and great technical ability. Above all I really have an appreciation for those players capable of dictating the tempo of matches and starting moves.
How would someone go about becoming a set-piece expert like yourself?
Every single day, ever since I first became a pro, I’ve stayed back after training to practice my set-piece taking. Nobody has ever forced me to, but it’s something I enjoy. I’d like young players to understand how important dead-ball situations can be, as they can often decide the outcome of a game. By practising them a little every day, you gain greater accuracy and a more delicate touch.
What do you think of the view that the way you play has changed Italian football?
Of course that’s nice to hear, but one player alone, however technically gifted he is, can’t change a whole playing system. I think it’s best to keep your feet on the ground and keep working hard.
Which coach have you enjoyed the closest relationship with?
Without taking anything away from all the great coaches that I’ve crossed paths with during my career, I think that I’ve felt most at home with Ancelotti. Why? It’s hard to explain. It’s probably down to the simple fact that we share similar character traits.
Is there anything you regret about your career?
It would be impossible not to have regrets: they’re part of the game. That said, I think that every disappointment or regret we experience helps us all grow as people and professionals and strengthens our characters.
Finally, do you think this could be the season Juventus reclaim the Scudetto?
It’s still too soon to tell and, to be honest, I don’t even think we should be thinking about that yet. Juve have finished in seventh place for the past two seasons, so we need to keep our feet on the ground, keep working hard and continue playing the way we’ve been doing since the start of the campaign.