BEFORE Euro 2012, Xavi emphasised the threat of Andrea Pirlo, calling him a midfield maestro. He was right on the money. Pirlo has been the undisputed star of the tournament.
Pirlo’s rare talent found its full expression in a brilliant, Champions League-winning AC Milan team of 2007 that included Australia’s Zeljko Kalac, with Kaka, Cafu and Inzaghi to anticipate his beautiful switches of play and precise, penetrating passes.
Our game evolves so quickly it is almost impossible to anticipate the next step, and no one knows this better than Massimiliano Allegri. The coach of AC Milan felt Pirlo’s best was behind him and allowed him to join Juventus on a free transfer.
Pirlo lifted Juventus to a new level, became its conductor and spiritual guide, and took it to an unbeaten season and a 30th Scudetto.
Italy will doubtless be lauding the brilliant national coach Cesare Prandelli who, aside from having shown the world a new, invigorated Italian team, has also brought a rare humanity and humility to the role.
Talk of human qualities such as love, generosity and romanticism is unusual in a playing arena more used to courage, confrontation and fighting qualities. Prandelli’s own personal journey – having stepped aside from the game to support his wife during her battle with breast cancer, which she lost – gives him a perspective that has no doubt been invaluable to a team featuring two of the most problematic characters to grace a pitch, Mario Balotelli and Antonio Cassano.
But credit must also go to Antonio Conte, coach of La Vecchia Signora, for giving Pirlo the platform, support and confidence to continue to mesmerise. How quickly life can change. A year ago, Pirlo was facing the scrap heap. Now, he is the single most important factor in the European Championship final tomorrow morning.
Pirlo holds the key to the game, as it will be the degree to which Spain can stifle his creativity that will determine the outcome of one of the most anticipated finals in memory.
Neither a shocking England, nor a German side widely expected to contest the final, have been able to adequately shackle him.
Conte and Prandelli have utilised Pirlo as a deep-lying playmaker that has challenged current thinking and systems and, aside from Spain in the first group game, no one has yet found the solution.
Pirlo is, in effect, a No. 10 playing as a No. 6, ahead of the defensive line, as we used to see 15 years ago before the advent of the ”Makelele” role, whereby a midfield destroyer became the norm to close down the opposing attacking midfielder. Creativity and inspiration was out, strength and destruction was in.
This morphed into two defensive pivots with different and complementary qualities but, in essence, deployed to provide a solid defensive platform from which a playmaker or attacking midfielder further up the field can operate more offensively.
Playing two more defensively minded players either side of Pirlo gives the security for the creator to operate at the base of a midfield diamond where he can influence the entire game.
Soccer moves in cycles as one change forces adaptation. Thus we once again have a midfield playmaker controlling the game from start to finish, a creator of the highest class and capability. Andrea Pirlo is the key to whether Italy can announce its re-emergence as a major power and serious threat for the 2014 World Cup.
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