So Andrea Pirlo has returned to Juventus, as the club look to their former midfield maestro to lead the charge to a 10th straight Serie A title.
The sight of football’s coolest and handsomest man on the touchline in a full three-piece suit might actually be too much to bear. Hitherto unknown levels of suave will be on display, as the king of shaggers takes charge of the team with whom he won seven major trophies, and looks to get his hands on the Champions League for the first time since 2007.
So how will Pirlo’s Juve actually play? There’s no coaching style to analyse, since he’s never actually managed a team, but we can study his playing career for a few early hints.
Pirlo may have played football with an unbelievable sophistication and grace, but there was far more to his game than just pleasing aesthetics. Yes, he’s one of the best-dressed individuals in history, but he backed that up with a relentless desire to win that carried him to 17 major trophies at club level and a cheeky wee World Cup with Italy.
If we know him at all, this is what he’ll be demanding from his players. Football with style, poise and dignity, but also with the kind of fire and winning mentality that helped him to one of the most accomplished playing careers ever.
Pirlo managed to win virtually everything in football, and he did this despite hardly covering any ground. Most games, you’d be lucky if he covered the length of the pitch even once, but his intelligence and reading of the game was such that he didn’t have to in order to have a seismic impact.
His Juve team, then, seems unlikely to press high; instead, they’ll be leaning into their football intelligence and tactical awareness in order to make themselves difficult to beat, while keeping the yardage to a minimum.
‘Running’ is superfluous, we play with slippers on in this house.
The new Juve will undoubtedly be dripping in style and debonair, but they’re probably not going to score too many goals. Pirlo, after all, is of that quintessentially Italian mindset that the perfect game of football would end 0-0.
In his ‘I Think Therefore I Play’ autobiography, published in 2013, he said: “In military terms, success starts in the zone behind the lines. Put more simply, the team that concedes the fewest goals wins the match.”
So, yeah. If you thought José Mourinho was the anti-Klopp, then you’re in for a surprise.
Of the players in that generation, perhaps only Xavi and Andrés Iniesta could boast a vision and passing range quite like Pirlo’s. The man played football like snooker; he was always two or three passes ahead of everyone else on the pitch, capable of casually picking out 40-yard Hollywood balls that any of us would have deemed impossible…had we seen it before he pulled it off.
‘Pirloball’ already has a pretty decent ring to it. It’ll be like Sarriball, except with the occasional cross-field ping that catches everyone, including the receiver, completely off-guard.
You can be sure that only the coolest of heads, and the steadiest of hands, will be allowed to grace the black and white shirt between now and whenever Pirlo leaves/retires/is sacked in November.
They’ll never bottle a two-goal lead or lose a cup final, and they’ll win every single penalty shootout they find themselves in.
Pirlo doesn’t feel pressure; pressure feels Pirlo.
If the first thing we associate with Pirlo’s signature floppy-hair-pristine-beard combo is his passing range, and the second thing we associate with it is his unwavering composure, then a very close third is his ability from set-pieces.
Whether he was nonchalantly floating in a corner, curling a free-kick into the top left, or dinking a penalty down the middle to mug off Joe Hart, his ability from dead-balls were a huge part of what made him an Italian icon. If these signature skills can rub off on one or two designated set-piece takers, then playing for free-kicks and corners could become a massive part of Juve’s success going forward.
Hell, he might even give himself a squad number to take a crack at one himself.