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.
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.