Pirlo the pearl


The Italian midfield maestro, Andrea Pirlo has played his last game for New York City and has officially retired from football period. One of the greatest midfield players to grace a football pitch he was one of the few who truly gave meaning to the phrase "the beautiful game". It is fittingly appropriate that I am taking time to reflect on the genius of this player at a time when England`s manager Gareth Southgate announced that due to Harry Winks` injury Jake Livermore of West Brom will take up the creative midfield responsibilities in this Friday`s friendly with Germany. Yeah, right.

This is a timely reminder - not only to Southgate - but to all English fans that technique is not the sole attribute required to perform at the highest level. You also need intelligence. The title of Pirlo`s recently published autotbiography - "I think therefore I play" - is instructive in this debate. This is Descartes not Del Boy. "Football is played with the head," Pirlo once shrugged. "The feet are just the tools." The headline image of this piece illustrates the point as Pirlo is surrounded by three bamboozled, toiling English players but seems to have all the time in the world as others were charging about with little purpose or clarity of thought.

The man had style with substance, coolness and panache. Steven Gerrard (who would probably misread that last word as pancake) in a post match interview after the 2005 Champions League semi-final churlishly said that Pirlo`s nutmeg on him when AC Milan were 3-0 up was "disrespectful".  Jealousy, Steven, is the tribute mediocrity pays to genius. The Italian had the last word, however, when in the 2012 Euros quarter-final penalty shoot out, Pirlo executed the panenka pen. Not only did it show ultimate composure and strength of character but it dealt a psychological blow to goalkeeper Joe Hart and totally changed the dynamic of that shoot-out. Ruthless but stylish.

While most footballers on reaching retirement consider staying in the game as a coach or pundit, Pirlo has stated that he will turn his hand to winegrowing rather than playmaking. He also expressed his desire to play more tennis, copying the sportsman he most admires, Roger Federer, a man who also wears the crown of sultan of suave.

Maybe I`m being too hard on Gerrard and his ilk. Maybe the poetry in motion that Pirlo epitomised cannot be taught. Yet what the English players can learn from this most sublime of football players is that one vital ingredient of genius is patience. Pirlo also added to the mix the qualities of skill, technique, beauty and poise. A legend.

This month`s Top Trader prize will not be £15 but a copy of Andrea Pirlo`s autobiography

 pirlo book


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