I know it’s been ages since I posted but it’s taken an exhibition of footballing genius to awaken me from my blogging slumber. Last time it was Athletic Club Bilbao (ACB) who jolted me into action after their inspirational team performances against Manchester United in the Europa League. They might have struggled to produce similarly accomplished displays on their way to the final of that tournament, and during their remaining La Liga fixtures, but Marcelo Bielsa’s young side gave us a reason (if anyone needed it – I certainly did!) to fall in love with football all over again.
And that is why Andrea Pirlo is the hero of this piece. Similar to ACB and their take on how football should and can be played, Pirlo’s midfield masterclass against England in the quarter finals of EURO 2012 gave me that rare feeling that I was watching something very special. Only this time it was pure individual brilliance. The way he controlled the play, the tempo of the game, and his ability to deliver one quarterback-esque pass after another with pinpoint accuracy just blew me away. Add in his ridiculous, bordering on petulant, penalty which was all Joe Hart deserved for his immature antics, and I’m not sure if there’s ever been a more complete performance from a player of his type in a major tournament.
Photo: The Guardian
That’s a bold statement, especially considering he never scored. But if you analyse his play, not only in terms of stats (Pirlo made 131 passes with 87% completion rate according to the BBC), his performance included everything you want from a deep lying midfielder and more.
There’s been enough written about his technical ability, his touch, range of passing, the way he keeps the ball, so I won’t go over old ground but I was just in awe of how easy he made it look. Even when people tried to get tight to him, granted that wasn’t very often, he always had a picture of what he wanted to do and even when that changed he still had the guile and tenacity to get out of difficult situations, more often than not, still in possession of the ball.
He’s never been the most mobile of players. He doesn’t need to be, given that he’s two steps in front of most in his head. Saying that, I think he covered as much ground as anyone during the 120+ minutes of the game and anyone who has said ‘he hasn’t got the legs anymore’, has surely been proved wrong. It maybe doesn’t seem like it, but believe me, the amount of work that goes into creating space to try and get on the ball that much during a match takes up almost as much energy as trying to win it back – although I’m not sure Gerrard and Parker would agree.
Another sign of player who is at the top of his game is his ability to adapt. When Andy Carroll came on and started making a nuisance of himself by holding the ball up and it looked like someone was finally asking some questions of the Italian back four, Pirlo recognised this and just planted himself on the Liverpool man’s toes whenever anyone tried to knock it long. Compare that with England’s lack of game knowledge concerning how to stop Pirlo running the show. Roy Hodgson was never going to commit one of his midfielder’s to push right onto the Italian and break those two sacred ‘banks of four’ but a striker might have at least got in a position to deny Pirlo some space.
However, that’s easy to say now and it’s true that the way Italy play suits Pirlo and vice versa but getting back on track, it was just an absolute joy to watch someone so accomplished and a master of their craft who plays in the same position as myself. The closest I’ve got to being compared to him was when an old team mate from a few years back said we had similar hair – I’ll take that!
Photo: Official STFC
I’d love to say I knew he would light up this tournament the way he has but I won’t lie. I’ve not seen him play much recently but I’m not surprised Juventus ended up Serie A champions with Pirlo no doubt at the heart of their success. I’ve always admired him though, and I hope I get a few more years of being captivated by him before he thinks about hanging up his boots.