Andrea Pirlo's unique genius lay in hard work and determination

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Pirlo revived his career at Juventus after being discarded by Milan.

There have been countless aspects of Andrea Pirlo to admire as a footballer. His passing range, the way he would control the tempo of a match despite often being the slowest player on the field, his ability to deliver in the biggest games and with style all of his own; any pass-heavy midfielder now deployed just in front of the defence will forever from this day be in the, “Pirlo role”.

As former Milan and Italy team-mate Gennaro Gattuso said: “When I see him play, I ask myself if I can really be considered a footballer.”

That appreciation was replicated in the cult of character that developed: the Serpico-era Al Pacino look, the love of the finer things in life and so many quotable lines from his autobiography, “I Think Therefore I Play”, the title in itself so brilliantly Pirlo.

However, what is sometime overlooked, given it doesn’t quite fit in with the same romantic narrative, is how he fought for every inch of his career to become one of the best midfielders of his generation.

Born into a degree of privilege with his father a steel magnate in Brescia, Pirlo was exceedingly talented from a young age and was soon signed up by his hometown club, making his Serie A debut at 16.

Two years later Internazionale came calling with Italian youth honours from Under-15 to Under-21. It was a gilded career seemingly destined for greatness. But in the chaos that was Inter of the last 1990s – five managers between 1998-2001 – he failed to find a place in his preferred No10.

MILAN, ITALY - JANUARY 17: Andrea Pirlo of Milan in action during the Serie A match between Milan and Siena at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on January 17, 2010 in Milan, Italy. (Photo by Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images)

Master at work: Pirlo starred at Milan for a decade.

After such a rapid elevation, the knock of not being wanted at one of Europe’s biggest clubs could have affected him, but instead a move to city rivals AC Milan and a switch to a deeper role, unearthed his genius.

He shone in an age of an emphasis on athletes first. Just as Xavi and Iniesta defied convention, so did Pirlo. The players of the future had to be bigger, stronger, faster. He passed his way through them.

The Rossoneri helped him grow into a great but in 2011, as he turned 31 after a serious knee injury, he was discarded with a feeling his best days were behind him.

It seems bizarre to think now, but Juventus were generally viewed as taking a significant risk on signing him on a free transfer. How ridiculous that seems now.

Once again, he reinvented himself, conducting the Bianconeri’s orchestra to his own tune and enjoyed a third chapter of his career so many didn’t think possible.

His approach on the field was more craft than graft, but then Pirlo always worked in his own individual way.

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Liverpool and Borussia Dortmund youngsters lead top five players at the FIFA U17 World Cup

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The FIFA U17 World Cup has a reputation for showcasing some of the world’s best young talent, and this year’s edition in India has been no different.

Young players from across the world have lit up the tournament, where Spain and England will face off in the final on Saturday.

Here are five of the best performers at the tournament so far.

RHIAN BREWSTER (ENGLAND)

A hat-trick in the quarterfinal followed by another in the semi-final – there’s not much more you can do to stand up for your country.

Brewster’s Ronaldo-esque performances have fired England into the final, and he’s the favourite to wrap up the Golden Boot. With seven goals in six games, he’d deserve the accolade.

The former Chelsea prodigy is now at Liverpool and has already caught the eye of Jurgen Klopp. Displays like this on a global stage mean his club debut is likely not too far away – he’s already made the matchday squad for a Liverpool first-team side, although he didn’t get on the pitch back in April.

Rhian Brewster scored hat-tricks in the quarterfinal and semifinal.

Rhian Brewster scored hat-tricks in the quarterfinal and semifinal.

JADON SANCHO (ENGLAND)

The youngster who recently made his Borussia Dortmund debut caught the eye in India. He starred for England in the group stages, before he was recalled by his club side.

It’s a shame Dortmund called him back, because the knockout rounds of a World Cup would have been a fitting stage for the young winger. He has tremendous talent, which was on display throughout England’s opening three matches.

Jadon Sancho only played in the group stages, but turned in some eye-catching displays.

Jadon Sancho only played in the group stages, but had some eye-catching displays.

ABEL RUIZ (SPAIN)

Ruiz looks like an archetypal Spain striker. He creates space for himself with intelligent movement, and he finishes with remarkable calm.

The Barcelona forward grabbed a brace in the semi-final to seal Spain’s spot in the final, where he’ll go head-to-head against England’s Brewster. Ruiz is just one goal behind Brewster in the scoring charts, so he’s got every chance at winning the Golden Boot.

Abel Ruiz's goals and all-around play has led Spain to the final.

Abel Ruiz’s goals and all-around play has led Spain to the final.

PAULINHO (BRAZIL)

Not to be confused with Barcelona’s midfielder, Paulinho was one of Brazil’s most dangerous threats in the tournament.

He possesses a fierce long-range shot, as he showed with a stunning strike against Spain in the group stages. His pace and propensity to cut inside from the flank make him a tricky customer, as England discovered in the semi-final.

JANN-FIETE ARP (GERMANY)

Arp isn’t just prolific. More than the fact that he scored five goals in five games at the U17 World Cup, it was the quality of his goals that caught the eye.

The youngster loves the chip in one-on-one situations, as he showed more than once in India, and he also scored from a seemingly impossible angle for one of his goals.

For a striker of his quality, he’s also remarkably unselfish; he keeps his head up and is never shy of picking out a teammate if that’s the better option. His flicks and passes kept Germany’s attacks flowing throughout the tournament.

Germany's Jann-Fiete Arp scored some wonderful goals at the U17 World Cup.

Germany’s Jann-Fiete Arp scored some wonderful goals at the U17 World Cup.

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Liverpool youngster Rhian Brewster scores hat-trick to send England through to U17 World Cup final

David Cooper 25/10/2017
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Rhian Brewster (R)

Liverpool attacker Rhian Brewster scored a second hat-trick in two games Wednesday to dump Brazil out of the Under-17 World Cup send England into their first final, where they will play Spain.

European champions Spain rode a double strike from star forward Abel Ruiz to beat a spirited Mali side 3-1 in the second semi-final in Mumbai.

Saturday’s finale in Kolkata will be a re-run of the UEFA European Under-17 Championship in May, which saw Spain beat England on penalties.

Brewster, who scored three goals in the 4-1 quarter-final win over the United States, stole the show in England’s 3-1 win over the South American giants in Kolkata.

“We are going to work hard and hopefully win (the tournament),” said Brewster after the game.

Brewster linked up brilliantly with Manchester City midfielder Phil Foden who provided the crosses for the match winner.

Brewster put England ahead in the 10th minute despite an attacking start by the Brazilians.
Brazil forward Wesley snatched an equaliser in the 21st minute to set up a thrilling match in front of a near capacity crowd.

But Brewster made all the running. He put England ahead in the 39th minute, becoming the top goal scorer of the tournament with his sixth strike.

His seventh goal of the event, which is being hosted by India for the first time, came in the second half as it shut the doors on the three-time champions.

The 77th minute strike was third time unlucky for Brazil goalkeeper Gabriel Brazao, who had not let in a goal from open play in the tournament until the last-four clash.

Brazil forwards Paulinho and Lincoln created some slick moves but bad luck and England goalkeeper Curtis Anderson kept the three-time champions at bay.

RUIZ ON SONG

Spain’s star striker Ruiz had no such worries as he scored twice in the first half to pack off their opponents and make their fourth final.

The in-form Ruiz found the net in the 19th minute via a penalty and then doubled the lead for the European champions in the 43rd minute.

The Barcelona academy product has six goals – one fewer than Brewster – in the tournament and has been linked to Arsenal and other Premier League sides, as well as Juventus.

Ruiz already has a buyout clause of three million euros on his contract and Barcelona reportedly want to increase that after the World Cup is over.

Ferran Torres also joined the Spanish party in the 71st minute to end matters for Mali, who were earlier denied a goal by the referee after the ball struck the pole and landed inside the goal line.

FIFA, the game’s world governing body, has used goal-line technology in senior events but it was not on offer at the U-17 World Cup.

Mali striker Lassana N’Diaye finished with six goals in the tournament but his 74th-minute strike was a mere consolation for the African champions.

Mali will now face Brazil for the third-place play-off before the final at Kolkata’s Salt Lake Stadium. 

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