“Being graceful and stylish in appearance or manner, the quality of being pleasingly ingenious and simple; neatness.”
Andrea Pirlo has got ‘elegant’ down to a tee, both on and off the pitch – so step aside Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn.
Never in a rush, Pirlo was a player who always seemed to have time on his side
It could have been a little different had his potential as a deep-lying playmaker not been realised.
A talented attacking midfielder, his lack of excellence in some of the modern game’s more coveted physical attributes at the start of his professional career threatened to stop him from reaching the very top.
His success with Italy’s Under-21 side showed his undoubted potential as he played a key role in their 2000 European Championship win, scoring twice in the final against the Czech Republic.
Still, there were nagging issues early on. “He wasn’t very quick. He wasn’t a game-changer,” said Marcelo Lippi, his manager at Inter Milan from 1999 to 2000.
Thankfully, a trip home did just the trick for the ambitious Brescia-native. Back on loan at the club where he started his career in 2001, Pirlo found himself paired with Roberto Baggio, a legend in swansong, who he’d also spent time with at Inter.
The Divine Ponytail was playing out the final act his his career, orchestrating a revival in Lombardy, and a short ten-game stint with Brescia saw Pirlo nudged back into a role behind No.10 Baggio.
Pirlo was played as a deep-lying playmaker by Brescia boss Carlo Mazzone during his loan spell in 2001 and excelled with Baggio in front of him
“Andrea has something that is not often seen around,” Baggio remarked after their time together.
Once his loan stint was up, Inter decided to cash in – selling him to rivals AC Milan for around 17million.
Carlo Ancelotti, then the AC Milan manager, recognised his abilities were more suited to playing a deeper role, having watched him impress there for Brescia.
It worked a charm and quickly success came flooding to the wily operator.
“We changed his position,” recalled Ancelotti, who won Serie A and the Champions League – twice – in his eight years at the San Siro.
“Originally he was an attacking midfielder and I moved him further back where he had more options and space in which to play.”
With Milan, Pirlo’s artistry was on show for all.
Pirlo developed into a world class talent at Milan in a star-studded squad under Ancelotti
The conductor to their array of attacking talent ahead of him – Clarence Seedorf, Rui Costa, Filippo Inzaghi, Rivaldo and Andriy Shevchenko to name but a few – it was no surprise that titles soon followed.
A Serie A triumph in 2003/04 came after their Champions League win over Juventus, and there was a Coppa Italia too.
In a tremendous international career Pirlo would win the World Cup with Italy in 2006, not only making the team of the tournament but winning the Bronze Ball too, while also being Man of the Match in the final.
He would later help Italy to the 2012 European Championship final, where the Azzurri came up short in the final – losing 4-0 to Spain.
Pirlo kisses the World Cup in 2006 having inspired his country to glory in Germany
An infamous night in Istanbul in 2005 – when Liverpool stunned Milan to win the Champions League from 3-0 down – blotted the copybook for Pirlo.
He briefly considered retirement, such was his devastation at that defeat, but would gain revenge on Liverpool in 2007 and win the Champions League with Milan again.
He was wanted by top European clubs with Chelsea even attempting an audacious swoop in 2009 but, by 2010/11, Pirlo was beginning to fade from view at the San Siro, making just 17 appearances for Milan in a second title win.
A mutual decision was made for him to leave on a free transfer. The beneficiaries? Juventus.
Pirlo said of the move: I had had some problems with (AC Milan manager Massimiliano) Allegri because I had been injured for four months. When I returned to action the team was going well and it was difficult for him to change system. We won the league that year but my contract was expiring and I wanted to change after ten years.
I knew and I wanted to prove I was still a top player, I needed something else.
I knew Juventus wanted to return to the top of Italian and European football. They had a new stadium and a great, motivated board. Juventus was the best choice for me.
And what a choice it was.
Pirlo played for Juventus from 2011 to 2015, making 164 appearances and scoring 19 goals
The impact was immediate, assisting the first goal in Juve’s new stadium, helping them to a 4-1 against Parma, while also completing all 110 of his passes.
Metronomic in the black and white stripes, he helped the club to their first Serie A title in nine years – going unbeaten for the entire campaign – and it was the first of Pirlo’s four in four years in Turin.
He was named the Serie A Footballer of the Year in 2012, 2013, and 2014 as his importance to Juve’s success was acknowledged.
It was perhaps fitting his final game for Juventus was the Champions League final in 2014/15, although it was not to be the glorious exit he hoped for as they lost 3-1 to a superior Barcelona side in Berlin.
His career then came to a rest in a two and a half season spell with New York City FC, where he became the best paid Italian in the world for a short time.
It wasn’t quite the magnificent exit one might have wanted for Pirlo and due to injuries in the 2017 the curtain came down on his final act.
Pirlo spent time alongside David Villa and Frank Lampard in New York before announcing his retirement in 2017
But bad words just cannot be found for the cultured superstar – branded ‘The Architect’ by teammates – who also won adoration for his suaveness, plus his immaculate hair and beard.
So what do the great and good of football say about him? talkSPORT.com takes a look…
Roberto Baggio
It’s fair to say the legendary Italian star enjoyed his time on the pitch with Pirlo at Brescia.
“When we played together, everything depended on him. He always had the great merit of seeing in advance what could happen within the action. His game vision, what he can do, what he can build, make him a champion.”
He barely spent a year with Pirlo behind him but the Brazilian was another enchanted by his majesty.
“He played with class. He could strike the ball well and he could control the play. He had a special gift with the ball and you just have to applaud players like that.
“Pirlo was a player who had the ability to manipulate the ball. He was able to pass it to whoever he wanted.
“He played the game simply and had almost a special relationship with the ball. He was able to place it in any area of the pitch that he wanted.
“It was so easy playing with Pirlo and everyone else who has played with him thinks the same. He’s in a class of his own.”
Carlo Ancelotti
The Italian coach helped transform Pirlo’s career at the San Siro and he believes they eventually let the midfielder leave the club too early.
“He loved playing that role and in the end did very well there. Ultimately he became the key to the whole (Milan) team.
“I don’t think Milan realised how useful Pirlo still was. He proved so much by doing so well at Juventus. I think Milan were sorry they let him go.
“Pirlo spots a pass in a split-second that lesser players could spend a whole lifetime waiting to see.”
Ancelotti and Pirlo enjoyed huge success together at Milan
Zbigniew Boniek
“To pass the ball to Pirlo is to hide it in a safe.”
Marcello Lippi
Another legendary Italian coach and another huge fan of Pirlo, Lippi adored his effortless ability to take opponents out of the game.
“A lot of the time he passes the ball without looking but he’s always in control of the situation.
“Typically with great midfielders like him, if you tried to double mark him or got too close they just play the ball with one touch making your efforts pointless or leaving your team with a man less.
“When he’s fit you can’t stop Pirlo.”
Carlos Tevez
“One day Ill be able to say: ‘I played with Pirlo.’”
Tevez treasured playing alongside Pirlo at Juventus
Another former Milan teammate, and World Cup winner, the Brazilian icon could only marvel at Pirlo’s brain.
“His speed of thought, his positioning, he was always in space. He always had the ball at his feet and knew where it should be played.
“He always played the correct ball. He was outstanding.
“A phenomenon. Pirlo is phenomenal. A very intelligent player who has an amazing vision of the game. You could give him the ball and run off him and he would already know where you were without even looking. A very smart player.”
Pirlo lifts one of many trophies he won in his glittering 22-year career
Gianluigi Buffon
The Juventus and Italy hero couldn’t believe it when Pirlo turned up in Turin.
“When he said he wanted to join Juve it seemed like an amazing stroke of luck for us. He was looking for a new challenge and also the chance to be a leader once again. And that’s how it turned out.
“I don’t think we could have found a player like him anywhere else in the world. Probably only Xavi matched his qualities, although he didn’t have the same shooting skills as Andrea.”
Meanwhile, in another interview he said: “Watching him play, I thought, ‘God exists!’ Because its simply embarrassing how good he is.”
Pirlo and Buffon enjoyed huge success at Juventus and on the international stage
Daniele De Rossi
Pirlo has touched my soul because we played with each other for over 10 years.
“He was a loyal teammate and a true friend. He never took shortcuts to win over coaches, teammates and the press. Its not easy to find people like that.
Demetrio Albertini
Pirlo effectively replaced Albertini at AC Milan, but he loved watching him in action.
“I have to say, Andrea Pirlo has written many pages that maybe weren’t in the manual because he is just one of those players who is able to make a team play well. There was no need for tactics or anything.”
Frank Lampard
At their end of their magnificent careers, Pirlo and Lampard spent a spell together at New York City FC and it was clear the admiration the Englishman has for him.
Ive always followed Pirlo, we studied him in England and I was lucky to have shared a part of my career with him. He is pure class on and off the pitch. A true gentleman.
“He’s a great player. I knew he was a great player from playing against him. His passing and awareness are second to none. He’ll receive the ball anywhere and it’s great to play alongside someone like that. The weight of his pass, his through balls and confidence on the ball are superb.”
The Barcelona legend, who the Italian was most compared to, once revealed he only watched Juve games to see him in action.
“When I watch Pirlo play, I have to admit that it’s a wonder to behold. I remain stupefied by him and I often watch Juventus games on TV only to admire him.”
Xavi chases Pirlo in the 2012 European Championship final
Jorge Valdano
The Argentina and Real Madrid hero is another who couldn’t hide his adoration of someone he deemed a throwback in the modern game.
“He’s the epitome of class; a man who leads the team using all the weapons that some consider antiquated yet, for me, are irreplaceable: deception, the pause, the fake, precision … These are all the exact opposite of that word that is so fashionable today and such a disaster for the game: intensity.”
Cesare Prandelli
Having managed Pirlo with Italy, Prandelli knew what he was talking about and it’s hard to disagree. Who doesn’t love Pirlo?
“Andrea Pirlo belongs to a protected category: he is the footballer for everyone. Every stadium is his stadium, the fans watch him and they see a universal champion, capable of transcending the concept of support for only one club.”
Michel Platini
If he is on song, everything else just falls into place.