Friday, 30 November 2012
A regista among registas: Andrea Pirlo
So the Ballon d'Or shortlist is in and it's a mighty fine shortlist too. Barcelona's Lionel Andrés Messi features, the man who competes with Diego Armando Maradona and Edison Arantes do Nascimento. Then there's the goal machine Ronaldo (no, not that one) who competes with Lionel Messi. Finally, Barcelona has another representative in Andrés Iniesta whose feats for Spain in Euro 2012 drew merited praise. A fine trio indeed: Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Iniesta.
I don't doubt Messi's inclusion; in fact I don't doubt anything about him when it comes to football. The man's a footballing titan, a juggernaut, a real world computer game player, a ridiculer of defences, a repeat offender and so much more. Hyperbole, anyone? In 2010 and 2011, Xavi had his place among the final three in the Ballon d'Or. One of the best playmakers in football history and a crucial cog in Spain's domination from 2008 till today. In 2012, one man missed his rightful place among two others for the world to see, to notice and understand who truly shapes games at the highest level. Apart from Messi, of course. This time it was another regista, another conductor on football’s battlefield.
It's just that Pirlo played very well in the last season, superbly in fact. In terms of performances he fits the bill but what about achievements? Conducting an unbeaten league season with Antonio Conte's Juventus is a pretty good start as well as being instrumental in Italy's run to the final of Euro 2012. I watched a few Juventus games last season and Pirlo was peerless. Despite holding a grudge against Italy for narrowly knocking Nigeria out at World Cup 1994, I was converted into an unofficial cheerleader for Italy during the tournament, all thanks to an avid Italian pal. Pirlo ran games for Italy. Prandelli had an organised side but Pirlo's composure, decision making, passing, work rate, tactical intelligence and positioning were brilliant. Educational. Exemplary. Telling.
Here is a player who is one of the most influential of his generation. A player who defines a position much like Claude Makélélé did for over a decade. A player who educates fans. Italy is historically known for catenaccio, organisation and defensive ideologies. Baggio and Totti were two number tens who were wonderful and enthralling examples of creative minds. Baggio has long retired and Totti's fire still flickers as a Roman king at 36. Pirlo is the current creative master for Italy. A FIFA World Cup winner, a UEFA European Football Championship runner-up, a triple Serie A champion, a double Champions League victor, an invincible and he's still passing, still creating, still dictating at 33 years of age.
L'architetto deserves more than a passing mention in the politics of awards ceremonies and personal accolades. Maybe that's the point. A true deep-lying playmaker might not be noticed by everyone watching the game. The praise may go to the goal scorers or the flashy wingers but look closely at the man in the middle. Notice how he shapes, understands, and reads the game. Watch Andrea Pirlo. Marvel at his footballing intelligence. The man is still in his prime and soon it may be too late to watch a master at work: a regista among registas. Andrea Pirlo.