By Andrea Ghislandi
The other new acquisitions of Juventus’ summer of 2011 certainly played their part, and Arturo Vidal, Mirko Vucinic and Stephan Lichtsteiner will forever be remembered as key men in the triumph sealed in Trieste on Sunday night. But the real architect of the Bianconeri’s 28th official title - on the pitch at least - has been Andrea Pirlo.
“A silent leader”, his former national coach Marcello Lippi described him, and he has been very much that since pulling on the black and white shirt. On the field, he has spoken with his feet, off it he has done the talking inside the dressing room and with family and friends, well away from the indiscreet eyes of TV cameras and newspapers. He is the first to have a laugh and a joke, however surprising that may be when looking at that ever-serious expression he takes onto the field.
Along with Barcelona’s Xavi, Pirlo is football’s greatest regista of the last decade, and has been considered the right man to entrust with the job of retaining balance and injecting magnificence in the centre of the pitch ever since Carlo Ancelotti decided to switch him from trequartista in 2003.
|PIRLO'S CAREER STATS
|HONOURS: 3 Scudetti, 2 Champions Leagues, 1 Club World Cup, 2 Uefa Supercups, 1 Coppa Italia, 1 Supercoppa Italiana, 1 Serie B|
While ‘Carletto’ saw the difference he made to AC Milan, Massimiliano Allegri perhaps didn’t, but Antonio Conte went as far as to scrap his beloved 4-2-4 in order to give him carte blanche in the centre. You could say it worked.
The Brescia-born midfielder put aside the injuries and misunderstandings of his final year at San Siro, and became the centrepiece of Juventus’ rewriting of history. He has contributed plenty of assists and a handful of goals, but above all it has been his consistency of performances which has made him the Old Lady’s most important man.
His possession game is so exemplary that to intercept his passes is as if to steal the Mona Lisa from the Louvre. Leonardo’s masterpiece was taken on one occasion in 1991, and Pirlo has been dispossessed almost as infrequently. Metronomic in the middle, his weight of passing, decision-making, and intelligence in movement have been second to none. The only drawback, and a forgivable one at that, has been his two spot-kick failures. Many Juve fans will say that came about from an unfamiliarity with the penalty spot after a long spell without an award going their way.
And while Gianluigi Buffon is the safest goalkeeper numbers wise in Serie A this season, much of that credit must go to the midfield trio of Vidal, Pirlo and Claudio Marchisio. The retention and recuperation of possession by the three men at the axis of the side has been of the highest level, ensuring that Juve spent as little time defending as was necessary.
The silent leader has been a silent champion all season, with never a word out of place, even after his troubled divorce from Milan following 10 trophy-laden years. It was a a difficult final campaign in 2010-11, and the millions of Rossoneri supporters who had so loved him knew in their hearts it was over.
Allegri preferred the steel of Mark van Bommel in midfield though, and allowed Pirlo to leave. Many see it as a huge error, and one which has now cost them the Scudetto.
With Pirlo in their colours, Ancelotti’s Milan played the best football in Europe, and when he exchanged red stripes for white ones Juventus became a lively, bubbling and profitable outfit. It can’t simply be coincidence.
One thing is irrefutable: If Pirlo was still at Milan, Juventus would not be champions of Italy right now.