The Italy international was a standout performer on the peninsula in 2011-12 and was superb during Euro 2012. Now he has a return to the top European competition to look forward to
By Andrea Ghislandi
First Ezequiel Lavezzi, then Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva, and for a while it appeared Julio Cesar and Maicon would leave too. And let’s not forget Alessandro Del Piero, Alessandro Nesta, Gennaro Gattuso and Filippo Inzaghi either.
For one reason or another, unlike any other Serie A season, Italian football is becoming less and less attractive – and the Calcioscommesse scandal has certainly not helped. The league is also becoming increasingly poorer from a technical point of view, having lost many champions who have written their names in thick black marker into the history books of Italian football.
Some of them have moved on due to their advancing age, with the real blame for the feeling of loss being the fact that these superstars with a capital S have not been replaced. The remaining so-called top players have been attracted by the petrodollars of Arabs and Russians who do not care about the global financial crisis or Financial Fair Play.
The result is that Andrea Pirlo, the great architect behind the rebirth of Juventus, is the only footballer to ply his trade in Serie A last season who finished amongst the top 30 of the 2011-12 Goal.com 50, the list of the greatest players of the past year, voted for by Goal.com journalists across the world.
|PIRLO IN 2011-12
To find another protagonist from the Italian league, you need to go down to 37th position, occupied by another Juventino, Arturo Vidal, with Gianluigi Buffon not far behind. The Bianconeri regista occupies fifth place, on the shoulder of Cristiano Ronaldo, Iker Casillas, Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta.
Therefore, after the two phenomena of world football and the two Euro-winning Spaniards, it is widely accepted that Pirlo was the best player of the past season; the biggest determining factor to his club and international side.
What Juve didn’t possess under former coach Luigi Del Neri was the “silent leader” type in midfield, and with Pirlo’s signature last summer came the addition of performances and panache that the Bianconeri had been missing previously. After an almost non-season in the Milan shirt, during which time there were some misunderstandings with Massimiliano Allegri, Pirlo has bounced back to be exactly the type of driving force he was during his peak years.
He chalked up many assists (11), added a handful of goals (three), but above all he delivered countless monstrous performances, giving confidence and leadership to a squad of players less accustomed to winning. It’s true that Juventus had the advantage of not playing in European competition, but those who had doubted Pirlo could be influential at a continental level were quickly put in their place thanks to his performances at Euro 2012. The final against Spain apart, he ran the show, with his poise and delightful play transfixing football fans across Europe.
In the season ahead, his class will illuminate the biggest stage once more. There is something about Pirlo and the Champions League that just clicks. He will surely brighten up the whole competition, after all, he is more than accustomed to winning the trophy with the big ears, having collected it twice as a Milan player in 2002-03 and 2006-07.
The hunt for a third European title starts now, and this time in black and white. It is a difficult challenge, similar in scale to Mount Everest, but with Pirlo and his magic, there’s plenty of reason for Juventus fans to dream.