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Andrea Pirlo: Plenty to give, Verratti will pick up the Italy pieces
Going into the 2011/2012 season, many questioned Juventus’ decision to sign Andrea Pirlo on a Bosman from Milan. It was fair. He was thirty-two, dipping in ability, and clearly wasn’t a part of Massimiliano Allegri’s plans. The one lingering thought was “Can he provide Juventus with the masterclass performances he delivered for Milan?” Boy, did he ever. Not only was he the key piece in Juve’s undefeated season, one can argue that he was the best player at Euro 2012 this past summer. He had showed up Italian media and fans, but at Euro, he did the same to the world. Yet despite all of the Ballon d’Or talk and the “ageless wonder” who will be “irreplaceable” for the Azzurri, we’re back to square one.
Andrea Pirlo hasn’t looked like his usual self in 2012/2013. Against Chelsea in the Champions League, a competition that many Juventini wanted him rested for, he was slightly invisible. Even in domestic games where he’s been rested thanks to Paul Pogba’s addition to the first team, many say he does look tired and worn down. While that may be the case, that isn’t totally true. It’s not so much fitness as it is awareness and game planning by opponents.
In that Chelsea clash, summer signing Oscar, making his debut in the Champions League, did a bang up job man marking the Italian playmaker. Pirlo had little space to operate and wasn’t integral in Juventus’ fightback in the second half. One can say that it’s up to Pirlo to overcome these players marking him tightly, but it is a difficult task when in a deep lying role having to carry the ball from defense into the attacking third.
Also, when looking at the games that Pirlo has played within Serie A, he has scored three goals this season, tied with his league total last year, and he has an assist as well. Plus even when he isn’t contributing to the score sheet, he’s still a large influence on the pitch. The mere presence of him puts the likes of Arturo Vidal and Claudio Marchisio at ease. Vidal never looks the same whenever Pirlo isn’t operating in the midfield and even though Marchisio continues to play the same, more defenders notice his scintillating runs in and around the top of the box. Plus Pirlo still strings tens of passes together to keep the play alive. When it looks like Juventus, or, when he’s on duty, Italy, are about to lose possession, Pirlo calms everyone’s nerves and distributes the ball to open areas or manages a shot on target.
So now this will come up: What about Italy? It’ll be easier for Juve to find another player of his caliber because they have a developing Paul Pogba already, not to mention the plethora of talent in the Primavera. For Italy it’s a little different because the country isn’t known for its smooth transitioning with youth players into first teams for both club and country. Even Sebastian Giovinco, who has just started to get full minutes for Italy (and for Juve, finally), is already 25 and will be 26 in just three months. Alessandro Diamanti is in the same boat and he’s 29!
The answer to the frantically paranoid Italians out there is Marco Verratti. He was the one who caused an uproar in transfer rumours to clubs like Juventus and Milan. “What is the fuss with this 19 year old midfielder?” everyone said. Yeah, he was a Zdenek Zeman prodigy at Serie B champions Pescara and dubbed “The next Pirlo” in that same season, but no one really believed the hype because of his lack of top division experience. Hence why the €12 million price tag was deemed too high by Juventus, Milan and other clubs in Italy. Not to PSG, though. Since his move to the Parisian side, he’s been an instant fan favourite with his clever footwork, intelligence, and lovely ball distribution. What’s amazing about all of this is that he’s still only 19 years old. Add in the fact that he’s only played top level football for two months or so, it’s scary to think what he can do. Teammate Zlatan Ibrahimovic hailed the youngster saying “Verratti isn’t good… He’s great” and manager Carlo Ancelotti claimed “Italy can relax, they already have a Pirlo replacement. His name is Marco Verratti.” and the former Milan and Chelsea boss couldn’t be more correct. To all Italians, if there’s ever a PSG game on and Verratti is starting, watched and relax about Pirlo’s future.
As for now, Pirlo is doing just fine. He’s had a long year representing club and country, now he’s forced to add a few more games to his calendar. Yes, he’s 33 and might be slowing down, but any claims of him being done are a little premature at this stage. As long as he’s still dictating the game with his distribution and presence, Pirlo will never be officially “past it”.