Massimo Ambrosini, Pirlo’s midfield partner during Milan’s Champions League golden era of 2003 to 2007, raised an interesting point when the pair recently chatted live on Instagram. Ambrosini suggested that Pirlo saw things on the pitch that others didn’t, and that he might struggle to train mere mortals. Pirlo took the theory in good humour before quipping: “Well what should I do? Go and manage in a championship on the moon?” But it’s true that very few had the vision of Pirlo.
One of his greatest goals from open play in the Champions League caught everybody by surprise. In the October 2009 group match between Real Madrid and Milan at the Bernabéu, the Rossoneri were trailing 1-0 with just over an hour gone. Pirlo picked up the ball in space on the left and fired a dipping shot into the bottom near corner from 35 metres. Not even Iker Casillas could deal with it and Milan went on to win 3-2.
When opponents did know what was coming, it wasn’t much help. His first Champions League goal was an inch-perfect free-kick into the top corner against Deportivo La Coruña for Milan in 2004. In a pleasing quirk of fate, the Maestro’s last goal in the competition was almost a carbon copy, but in the black and white of his current employers. That was 2014 and Olympiacos were the victims.
Goals were not Pirlo’s main currency, of course. In keeping with his role’s title in Italian, regista, which is the same as the word for film director, Pirlo was more comfortable allowing others to shine. Even his most celebrated contemporaries were in awe. Barcelona icon Xavi Hernández said the Italian possessed an “unfathomable talent and was a joy to watch”, and the Catalan’s long-term midfield partner Andrés Iniesta considered Pirlo a “reference point for anyone who plays football”.
One of Pirlo’s most memorable assists occurred on their turf at the Camp Nou in a group clash in November 2004. Deep in his own half, Pirlo activated his telepathic understanding with Andriy Shevchenko and swept a laser-accurate ball over everyone. The Ukrainian used his speed and strength to escape Oleguer Presas and score. A difficult pass made to look simple by a supreme technician. Years later, Sheva said: “I have got so many great memories of playing with Andrea, no praise is too high.”
Paolo Menicucci asked veteran coach Mircea Lucescu to describe what Andrea Pirlo was like when he gave him his playing debut 25 years ago. Read his interview HERE.