Equally at ease in a deep-lying playmaking role or a more advanced position, Andrea Pirlo is a linchpin for both club and country. Two-footed and blessed with exceptional vision and flawless technique, the AC Milan man can pick out team-mates with pinpoint passes and is also one of the finest set-piece specialists in the business.
He started his Serie A career with Brescia in 1994/95, making his debut against Reggina just two days after turning 16. After earning a transfer to Inter Milan and then failing to command a regular place, he spent loan spells at Reggina and Brescia. Sold on to AC Milan in 2001, he took a season to settle in before Carlo Ancelotti stationed him just in front of the defence, with Gennaro Gattuso and Clarence Seedorf offering protection on either side.
It was a switch that paid off. Occupying a position normally filled by a ball-winning midfielder, Pirlo was able to bring his sublime playmaking skills to bear by collecting possession from the defence and prompting his side forward. Former Brazil coach Carlos Alberto Parreira described him as a "Zico in front of the defence", which defined his role to perfection, and with the cultured Pirlo making himself irreplaceable in his new position, Milan began to reap the benefits.
In eight seasons with I Rossoneri Pirlo has so far won two UEFA Champions League titles, a FIFA Club World Cup, an Italian championship, two UEFA European Super Cups and an Italian Cup.
At international level he served a lengthy apprenticeship with Italy's youth teams, playing for four seasons with the U-21s and scoring 16 goals in 46 appearances. In that time he won the 2000 UEFA European Under-21 Championship and also went on to collect a bronze medal at the Athens 2004 Men's Olympic Football Tournament.
Promotion to the senior team came in 2002 under Giovanni Trapattoni. However, it was not until the second game of Italy's participation at UEFA EURO 2004 that Pirlo finally cemented his place in the starting XI.
Nicknamed Trilli Campanellino (Italian for Tinkerbell) and known to his team-mates as The Architect, Pirlo's finest hour would come at the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™, where he won man of the match awards in the games against Ghana, Germany and France and also pocketed the adidas Bronze Ball behind Zinedine Zidane and Fabio Cannavaro.
After playing in all three of Italy's group games at UEFA EURO 2008, he was suspended for Italy's quarter-final elimination to Spain. And with Marcello Lippi now back at the helm, the peerless Pirlo remains a vital cog in the Italian machine.