INterview

"It's definitely more stressful in the dugout"

After three years out of the game, Andrea Pirlo’s decision to become Juventus coach came as something of a surprise; he had, after all, insisted as a player that life on the bench would not be for him. Paolo Menicucci met the Maestro in Turin to discover the reasons behind his change of heart

ADDITIONAL REPORTING Sheridan Bird | PORTRAITS Daniele Badolato

“I wouldn’t advise anyone to predict me having a future as a coach,” wrote Andrea Pirlo in his autobiography back in 2013. “It’s not the sort of job I’d be enthusiastic about. Too many things to worry over, and a way of life too similar to being a player.” The then Juventus midfielder was still four years from retirement but already had plans that didn’t involve training pitches: winemaking, art, perhaps television work. The Pirlo who moved to New York to play out the end of his career seemed ready to plot a course that reflected the way he played, in the form of a detached and cultured appreciation for the finer things in life. And yet here he is, Juventus coach since August. And here we are, discussing his dramatic reversal.

“What’s changed is that I’ve stopped playing, so I had to think about doing something else,” the 41-year-old says. “I started studying and realised that day by day this passion [for coaching] was growing, so it became an automatic choice. When you play there are things you like and others you don’t. Now I can pass that onto my players.”

That sounds like great news for everyone who savoured Pirlo’s grace and control as a deep-lying playmaker. During his Juve spell, one of the most popular T-shirts among Bianconeri fans declared: “Keep calm and pass to Pirlo”. His nonchalance under pressure was the stuff of legend and now this great orchestrator of the game can endeavour to mould an entire team in his image. In exchange, however, his own insouciance has had to take a backseat.

“It’s definitely more stressful in the dugout,” he says. “On the pitch I could decide what I did with the ball. From the dugout I can manage, but it’s other people who are interpreting their roles, playing the matches. I’ve taken on this new job because I think I can do it. I have my own ideas, so I’ll try to put them across to the team. When I was playing I had a style that meant I could be involved in certain situations and be decisive on the pitch. Now I have to do that on my own from the touchline.”

Andrea Pirlo pitchside for his Champions League return, a 2-0 win over Dynamo Kyiv

He speaks in is his usual interview mode: all gravelly voice and impassive face. None of that has changed since his playing days. “I’ve come into an environment I know really well, from the groundsman to the kitman and physiotherapist, so that was really helpful,” he says. But ‘the real Pirlo’, known by many as the funniest guy in the dressing room, remains. “I can now also joke around with those people like when I was a player. That helps a lot when you need to switch off.”

He had a favourite (and combustible) victim during his Milan and Italy years – Gennaro ‘Rino’ Gattuso. In his autobiography, I Think Therefore I Play, Pirlo wrote: “Rino’s always been my favourite target by some distance, this despite the fact that on several occasions he’s tried to kill me.” Gattuso was tormented for his southern dialect, had his sister offered to a Milan director in exchange for a new contract, was locked into his room with sofas piled up in front of the door to block his exit just before training, was flooded with foam from a fire extinguisher in the middle of the night and also convinced to eat a living snail.

“Rino ran me through his full range of slaps,” Pirlo wrote, remembering the fire extinguisher attack. Despite all this, Gattuso is among Pirlo’s best friends in football. Alessandro Nesta is another. “It always looks like he is sleeping but he is a great team spirit builder instead,” said Pirlo’s former team-mate and room-mate when the midfielder left Milan to join Juventus in 2011. “At a human level, he is a ten out of ten.”

The new boss is very familiar with several members of his squad: players such as Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci and Gianluigi Buffon waded into countless battles with him, both for Juve and Italy. “Maybe it wasn’t easy for them to see me as their coach in the beginning, but within a few hours they understood my role was different,” Pirlo says. “They can help me a lot because they know what it means to play for Juve. They know what it means to win. They also know what it’s like working with me, so they know the spirit I want to bring to this team.”

Did those old hands immediately take to calling him ‘Mister’, the Italian equivalent of ‘gaffer’? He grins. “They were all at my command straight away! They called me Mister right from the start – perhaps with a smile, but then they got used to it.”

“THEY KNOW WHAT IT MEANS TO PLAY FOR JUVE. THEY KNOW WHAT IT MEANS TO WIN. THEY KNOW THE SPIRIT I WANT TO BRING TO THIS TEAM”
By

The list of Misters that Pirlo worked with during his own career is impressive, from Mircea Lucescu at Brescia to Marcello Lippi and Carlo Ancelotti. “I’ll try to take something from each of them,” he says, adding that he is also inspired by Pep Guardiola, with whom he has been regularly compared since being appointed by Juve. “Guardiola’s shown that young coaches who are keen to promote a certain kind of attacking football are an example to follow. I like his style of play: to always be on the attack and direct the game, to always be able to handle any situation. That’s what our aim should be.”

Like his team, Pirlo the manager is a work in progress. He is growing into the role. Early on, the bearded boss was fairly quiet, like Zinédine Zidane on the Real Madrid touchline. Now he is becoming more vocal. His words are usually encouragement and tactical tips. “Move the ball quickly” or just “quickly” are favourites. He tells players where they need to be and who to press. It’s committed but calm, more of a raised voice than full, earthy shout, and always under control. No wild gestures or tantrums.

He has also had to learn quickly on the job. Being prepared to handle any situation meant dealing with a series of injuries that upset plans from the start. Defensively he has had to do without Matthijs de Ligt, Alex Sandro and Chiellini, while up front Cristiano Ronaldo’s absence after testing positive for Covid-19 has been keenly felt. Arthur, meanwhile, has taken time to settle in the role vacated by Miralem Pjanić.

“THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE IS THE DREAM OF EVERYBODY WHO PLAYS FOOTBALL”


If Pirlo was adept at pulling strings as a player, as a coach he gives them an almighty tug: he frequently switches playing systems, notably during games. A back four in defence becomes a back three when attacking, and versatile forwards allow him flexibility across the front line. The goal is to maintain a balance, but with an onus on attack with two wingers and a fantasista feeding two forwards. Ronaldo will be key.

“I’m happy to have this icon of world football, to see him every day, to have him at my disposal, to see him train, to see him play. It’s an enormous pleasure for me, and for the whole team, because he’s someone who works the same now, at 35 years old, as he did as a young lad, with the same passion to play football every day. He’s an example for all of us.”

Ronaldo will play a large part in determining how far Juve progress in the Champions League, a competition that Pirlo won twice with AC Milan – and that Juve haven’t conquered since 1995/96. “The Champions League creates such a strong emotion from the moment you hear the music. When you reach the final and win, you understand how great and important it is. Hearing that music takes me back a few years. Our objective is to play attacking football, to control the game, to go to every stadium and impose our game. Whether you play at the Bernabéu or any other stadium, it’s the same. It doesn’t change anything.”

Pirlo meets the press with former team-mate Giorgio Chiellini

For now Pirlo’s more refined interests will have to take a back seat. That includes wine company Pratum Coller, which the devoted connoisseur runs in his native Brescia region. Old team-mates have spoken in the past of their panic in deciding which wine to bring when visiting Pirlo for dinner. The wrong bottle and it’s a brutta figura, as the Italians say when someone makes a spectacle of themselves.

The Juve boss’s grandfather was a winemaker, and unlike many former sports stars who move into the business as an investment, Pirlo lives and loves the stuff. Intriguingly, he gave hints of his future style of football management while discussing his vineyard in 2013. The World Cup winner explained how he handpicked the right staff and refused to rush the process, in order to follow a clear plan and produce the best possible wine.

So too his taste for luxury watches makes complete sense – and not just because high-quality timepieces click with his elegant yet cool image. As a player, Pirlo’s feet were precision instruments, and he always knew the position and movements of his team-mates on the pitch. Now, in the dugout, he shares with the master watch craftsman an innate desire to understand and combine precious components.

Such attention to detail will be essential to Pirlo as he marks his return to the Champions League, still for him “the dream of everybody who plays football”. As our interview ends it feels apt to offer a “Good luck, Mister,” with a touch of emphasis on that final word. He smiles again… he’s getting used to it.

Insight
'An unfathomable talent’

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.

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INterview

"It's definitely more stressful in the dugout"

After three years out of the game, Andrea Pirlo’s decision to become Juventus coach came as something of a surprise; he had, after all, insisted as a player that life on the bench would not be for him. Paolo Menicucci met the Maestro in Turin to discover the reasons behind his change of heart

ADDITIONAL REPORTING Sheridan Bird | PORTRAITS Daniele Badolato

“I wouldn’t advise anyone to predict me having a future as a coach,” wrote Andrea Pirlo in his autobiography back in 2013. “It’s not the sort of job I’d be enthusiastic about. Too many things to worry over, and a way of life too similar to being a player.” The then Juventus midfielder was still four years from retirement but already had plans that didn’t involve training pitches: winemaking, art, perhaps television work. The Pirlo who moved to New York to play out the end of his career seemed ready to plot a course that reflected the way he played, in the form of a detached and cultured appreciation for the finer things in life. And yet here he is, Juventus coach since August. And here we are, discussing his dramatic reversal.

“What’s changed is that I’ve stopped playing, so I had to think about doing something else,” the 41-year-old says. “I started studying and realised that day by day this passion [for coaching] was growing, so it became an automatic choice. When you play there are things you like and others you don’t. Now I can pass that onto my players.”

That sounds like great news for everyone who savoured Pirlo’s grace and control as a deep-lying playmaker. During his Juve spell, one of the most popular T-shirts among Bianconeri fans declared: “Keep calm and pass to Pirlo”. His nonchalance under pressure was the stuff of legend and now this great orchestrator of the game can endeavour to mould an entire team in his image. In exchange, however, his own insouciance has had to take a backseat.

“It’s definitely more stressful in the dugout,” he says. “On the pitch I could decide what I did with the ball. From the dugout I can manage, but it’s other people who are interpreting their roles, playing the matches. I’ve taken on this new job because I think I can do it. I have my own ideas, so I’ll try to put them across to the team. When I was playing I had a style that meant I could be involved in certain situations and be decisive on the pitch. Now I have to do that on my own from the touchline.”

Andrea Pirlo pitchside for his Champions League return, a 2-0 win over Dynamo Kyiv

He speaks in is his usual interview mode: all gravelly voice and impassive face. None of that has changed since his playing days. “I’ve come into an environment I know really well, from the groundsman to the kitman and physiotherapist, so that was really helpful,” he says. But ‘the real Pirlo’, known by many as the funniest guy in the dressing room, remains. “I can now also joke around with those people like when I was a player. That helps a lot when you need to switch off.”

He had a favourite (and combustible) victim during his Milan and Italy years – Gennaro ‘Rino’ Gattuso. In his autobiography, I Think Therefore I Play, Pirlo wrote: “Rino’s always been my favourite target by some distance, this despite the fact that on several occasions he’s tried to kill me.” Gattuso was tormented for his southern dialect, had his sister offered to a Milan director in exchange for a new contract, was locked into his room with sofas piled up in front of the door to block his exit just before training, was flooded with foam from a fire extinguisher in the middle of the night and also convinced to eat a living snail.

“Rino ran me through his full range of slaps,” Pirlo wrote, remembering the fire extinguisher attack. Despite all this, Gattuso is among Pirlo’s best friends in football. Alessandro Nesta is another. “It always looks like he is sleeping but he is a great team spirit builder instead,” said Pirlo’s former team-mate and room-mate when the midfielder left Milan to join Juventus in 2011. “At a human level, he is a ten out of ten.”

The new boss is very familiar with several members of his squad: players such as Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci and Gianluigi Buffon waded into countless battles with him, both for Juve and Italy. “Maybe it wasn’t easy for them to see me as their coach in the beginning, but within a few hours they understood my role was different,” Pirlo says. “They can help me a lot because they know what it means to play for Juve. They know what it means to win. They also know what it’s like working with me, so they know the spirit I want to bring to this team.”

Did those old hands immediately take to calling him ‘Mister’, the Italian equivalent of ‘gaffer’? He grins. “They were all at my command straight away! They called me Mister right from the start – perhaps with a smile, but then they got used to it.”

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“THEY KNOW WHAT IT MEANS TO PLAY FOR JUVE. THEY KNOW WHAT IT MEANS TO WIN. THEY KNOW THE SPIRIT I WANT TO BRING TO THIS TEAM”
By

The list of Misters that Pirlo worked with during his own career is impressive, from Mircea Lucescu at Brescia to Marcello Lippi and Carlo Ancelotti. “I’ll try to take something from each of them,” he says, adding that he is also inspired by Pep Guardiola, with whom he has been regularly compared since being appointed by Juve. “Guardiola’s shown that young coaches who are keen to promote a certain kind of attacking football are an example to follow. I like his style of play: to always be on the attack and direct the game, to always be able to handle any situation. That’s what our aim should be.”

Like his team, Pirlo the manager is a work in progress. He is growing into the role. Early on, the bearded boss was fairly quiet, like Zinédine Zidane on the Real Madrid touchline. Now he is becoming more vocal. His words are usually encouragement and tactical tips. “Move the ball quickly” or just “quickly” are favourites. He tells players where they need to be and who to press. It’s committed but calm, more of a raised voice than full, earthy shout, and always under control. No wild gestures or tantrums.

He has also had to learn quickly on the job. Being prepared to handle any situation meant dealing with a series of injuries that upset plans from the start. Defensively he has had to do without Matthijs de Ligt, Alex Sandro and Chiellini, while up front Cristiano Ronaldo’s absence after testing positive for Covid-19 has been keenly felt. Arthur, meanwhile, has taken time to settle in the role vacated by Miralem Pjanić.

“THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE IS THE DREAM OF EVERYBODY WHO PLAYS FOOTBALL”


If Pirlo was adept at pulling strings as a player, as a coach he gives them an almighty tug: he frequently switches playing systems, notably during games. A back four in defence becomes a back three when attacking, and versatile forwards allow him flexibility across the front line. The goal is to maintain a balance, but with an onus on attack with two wingers and a fantasista feeding two forwards. Ronaldo will be key.

“I’m happy to have this icon of world football, to see him every day, to have him at my disposal, to see him train, to see him play. It’s an enormous pleasure for me, and for the whole team, because he’s someone who works the same now, at 35 years old, as he did as a young lad, with the same passion to play football every day. He’s an example for all of us.”

Ronaldo will play a large part in determining how far Juve progress in the Champions League, a competition that Pirlo won twice with AC Milan – and that Juve haven’t conquered since 1995/96. “The Champions League creates such a strong emotion from the moment you hear the music. When you reach the final and win, you understand how great and important it is. Hearing that music takes me back a few years. Our objective is to play attacking football, to control the game, to go to every stadium and impose our game. Whether you play at the Bernabéu or any other stadium, it’s the same. It doesn’t change anything.”

Pirlo meets the press with former team-mate Giorgio Chiellini

For now Pirlo’s more refined interests will have to take a back seat. That includes wine company Pratum Coller, which the devoted connoisseur runs in his native Brescia region. Old team-mates have spoken in the past of their panic in deciding which wine to bring when visiting Pirlo for dinner. The wrong bottle and it’s a brutta figura, as the Italians say when someone makes a spectacle of themselves.

The Juve boss’s grandfather was a winemaker, and unlike many former sports stars who move into the business as an investment, Pirlo lives and loves the stuff. Intriguingly, he gave hints of his future style of football management while discussing his vineyard in 2013. The World Cup winner explained how he handpicked the right staff and refused to rush the process, in order to follow a clear plan and produce the best possible wine.

So too his taste for luxury watches makes complete sense – and not just because high-quality timepieces click with his elegant yet cool image. As a player, Pirlo’s feet were precision instruments, and he always knew the position and movements of his team-mates on the pitch. Now, in the dugout, he shares with the master watch craftsman an innate desire to understand and combine precious components.

Such attention to detail will be essential to Pirlo as he marks his return to the Champions League, still for him “the dream of everybody who plays football”. As our interview ends it feels apt to offer a “Good luck, Mister,” with a touch of emphasis on that final word. He smiles again… he’s getting used to it.

Insight
'An unfathomable talent’

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.

INterview

"It's definitely more stressful in the dugout"

After three years out of the game, Andrea Pirlo’s decision to become Juventus coach came as something of a surprise; he had, after all, insisted as a player that life on the bench would not be for him. Paolo Menicucci met the Maestro in Turin to discover the reasons behind his change of heart

ADDITIONAL REPORTING Sheridan Bird | PORTRAITS Daniele Badolato

“I wouldn’t advise anyone to predict me having a future as a coach,” wrote Andrea Pirlo in his autobiography back in 2013. “It’s not the sort of job I’d be enthusiastic about. Too many things to worry over, and a way of life too similar to being a player.” The then Juventus midfielder was still four years from retirement but already had plans that didn’t involve training pitches: winemaking, art, perhaps television work. The Pirlo who moved to New York to play out the end of his career seemed ready to plot a course that reflected the way he played, in the form of a detached and cultured appreciation for the finer things in life. And yet here he is, Juventus coach since August. And here we are, discussing his dramatic reversal.

“What’s changed is that I’ve stopped playing, so I had to think about doing something else,” the 41-year-old says. “I started studying and realised that day by day this passion [for coaching] was growing, so it became an automatic choice. When you play there are things you like and others you don’t. Now I can pass that onto my players.”

That sounds like great news for everyone who savoured Pirlo’s grace and control as a deep-lying playmaker. During his Juve spell, one of the most popular T-shirts among Bianconeri fans declared: “Keep calm and pass to Pirlo”. His nonchalance under pressure was the stuff of legend and now this great orchestrator of the game can endeavour to mould an entire team in his image. In exchange, however, his own insouciance has had to take a backseat.

“It’s definitely more stressful in the dugout,” he says. “On the pitch I could decide what I did with the ball. From the dugout I can manage, but it’s other people who are interpreting their roles, playing the matches. I’ve taken on this new job because I think I can do it. I have my own ideas, so I’ll try to put them across to the team. When I was playing I had a style that meant I could be involved in certain situations and be decisive on the pitch. Now I have to do that on my own from the touchline.”

Andrea Pirlo pitchside for his Champions League return, a 2-0 win over Dynamo Kyiv

He speaks in is his usual interview mode: all gravelly voice and impassive face. None of that has changed since his playing days. “I’ve come into an environment I know really well, from the groundsman to the kitman and physiotherapist, so that was really helpful,” he says. But ‘the real Pirlo’, known by many as the funniest guy in the dressing room, remains. “I can now also joke around with those people like when I was a player. That helps a lot when you need to switch off.”

He had a favourite (and combustible) victim during his Milan and Italy years – Gennaro ‘Rino’ Gattuso. In his autobiography, I Think Therefore I Play, Pirlo wrote: “Rino’s always been my favourite target by some distance, this despite the fact that on several occasions he’s tried to kill me.” Gattuso was tormented for his southern dialect, had his sister offered to a Milan director in exchange for a new contract, was locked into his room with sofas piled up in front of the door to block his exit just before training, was flooded with foam from a fire extinguisher in the middle of the night and also convinced to eat a living snail.

“Rino ran me through his full range of slaps,” Pirlo wrote, remembering the fire extinguisher attack. Despite all this, Gattuso is among Pirlo’s best friends in football. Alessandro Nesta is another. “It always looks like he is sleeping but he is a great team spirit builder instead,” said Pirlo’s former team-mate and room-mate when the midfielder left Milan to join Juventus in 2011. “At a human level, he is a ten out of ten.”

The new boss is very familiar with several members of his squad: players such as Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci and Gianluigi Buffon waded into countless battles with him, both for Juve and Italy. “Maybe it wasn’t easy for them to see me as their coach in the beginning, but within a few hours they understood my role was different,” Pirlo says. “They can help me a lot because they know what it means to play for Juve. They know what it means to win. They also know what it’s like working with me, so they know the spirit I want to bring to this team.”

Did those old hands immediately take to calling him ‘Mister’, the Italian equivalent of ‘gaffer’? He grins. “They were all at my command straight away! They called me Mister right from the start – perhaps with a smile, but then they got used to it.”

“THEY KNOW WHAT IT MEANS TO PLAY FOR JUVE. THEY KNOW WHAT IT MEANS TO WIN. THEY KNOW THE SPIRIT I WANT TO BRING TO THIS TEAM”
By

The list of Misters that Pirlo worked with during his own career is impressive, from Mircea Lucescu at Brescia to Marcello Lippi and Carlo Ancelotti. “I’ll try to take something from each of them,” he says, adding that he is also inspired by Pep Guardiola, with whom he has been regularly compared since being appointed by Juve. “Guardiola’s shown that young coaches who are keen to promote a certain kind of attacking football are an example to follow. I like his style of play: to always be on the attack and direct the game, to always be able to handle any situation. That’s what our aim should be.”

Like his team, Pirlo the manager is a work in progress. He is growing into the role. Early on, the bearded boss was fairly quiet, like Zinédine Zidane on the Real Madrid touchline. Now he is becoming more vocal. His words are usually encouragement and tactical tips. “Move the ball quickly” or just “quickly” are favourites. He tells players where they need to be and who to press. It’s committed but calm, more of a raised voice than full, earthy shout, and always under control. No wild gestures or tantrums.

He has also had to learn quickly on the job. Being prepared to handle any situation meant dealing with a series of injuries that upset plans from the start. Defensively he has had to do without Matthijs de Ligt, Alex Sandro and Chiellini, while up front Cristiano Ronaldo’s absence after testing positive for Covid-19 has been keenly felt. Arthur, meanwhile, has taken time to settle in the role vacated by Miralem Pjanić.

“THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE IS THE DREAM OF EVERYBODY WHO PLAYS FOOTBALL”


If Pirlo was adept at pulling strings as a player, as a coach he gives them an almighty tug: he frequently switches playing systems, notably during games. A back four in defence becomes a back three when attacking, and versatile forwards allow him flexibility across the front line. The goal is to maintain a balance, but with an onus on attack with two wingers and a fantasista feeding two forwards. Ronaldo will be key.

“I’m happy to have this icon of world football, to see him every day, to have him at my disposal, to see him train, to see him play. It’s an enormous pleasure for me, and for the whole team, because he’s someone who works the same now, at 35 years old, as he did as a young lad, with the same passion to play football every day. He’s an example for all of us.”

Ronaldo will play a large part in determining how far Juve progress in the Champions League, a competition that Pirlo won twice with AC Milan – and that Juve haven’t conquered since 1995/96. “The Champions League creates such a strong emotion from the moment you hear the music. When you reach the final and win, you understand how great and important it is. Hearing that music takes me back a few years. Our objective is to play attacking football, to control the game, to go to every stadium and impose our game. Whether you play at the Bernabéu or any other stadium, it’s the same. It doesn’t change anything.”

Pirlo meets the press with former team-mate Giorgio Chiellini

For now Pirlo’s more refined interests will have to take a back seat. That includes wine company Pratum Coller, which the devoted connoisseur runs in his native Brescia region. Old team-mates have spoken in the past of their panic in deciding which wine to bring when visiting Pirlo for dinner. The wrong bottle and it’s a brutta figura, as the Italians say when someone makes a spectacle of themselves.

The Juve boss’s grandfather was a winemaker, and unlike many former sports stars who move into the business as an investment, Pirlo lives and loves the stuff. Intriguingly, he gave hints of his future style of football management while discussing his vineyard in 2013. The World Cup winner explained how he handpicked the right staff and refused to rush the process, in order to follow a clear plan and produce the best possible wine.

So too his taste for luxury watches makes complete sense – and not just because high-quality timepieces click with his elegant yet cool image. As a player, Pirlo’s feet were precision instruments, and he always knew the position and movements of his team-mates on the pitch. Now, in the dugout, he shares with the master watch craftsman an innate desire to understand and combine precious components.

Such attention to detail will be essential to Pirlo as he marks his return to the Champions League, still for him “the dream of everybody who plays football”. As our interview ends it feels apt to offer a “Good luck, Mister,” with a touch of emphasis on that final word. He smiles again… he’s getting used to it.

Insight
'An unfathomable talent’

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.

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