Andrea Pirlo was a rare talent a winner and dreamer who oozed creative cool | Paolo Bandini


The Italian retires with nothing left to prove, having achieved that highest form of football recognition the stage at which a footballers name becomes synonymous with their position. The Pirlo role is understood worldwide

Andrea Pirlo loved to pull pranks on Gennaro Gattuso. The two midfielders played together for more than a decade with Milan and Italy, winning everything from Serie A to the World Cup and Champions League. They became fast friends, but that did not stop Pirlo from stealing Gattusos phone one day and texting his agent, offering his sister in return for an improved contract.

It was not the practical jokes, though, that tormented Gattuso the most. Harder to cope with were the existential crises provoked by training alongside such outlandish talent. As he mused on one occasion: When I watch Pirlo play, and see him with the ball at his feet, I ask myself if I could even truly be considered a footballer at all.

Pirlo himself is not a footballer any longer. He confirmed his retirement on social media after New York City FC, the club with whom he has passed the final two and a-half years of his career, were eliminated from the MLS playoffs.

Six months after Francesco Tottis curtain call, Italian football bids farewell to another of its most iconic stars. While the Roma forward was a one-club man, Pirlo was almost the opposite: that rare example of someone who swapped between great rivals without losing the affection of either. They still love him in Milan, just like they do in Turin. And just about everywhere else in the world besides.

Looking back, it is hard to pinpoint precisely when Pirlo transcended from domestic darling to global brand: a face that launched a thousand memes. Was it the 2006 World Cup win, or perhaps the Panenka to deceive Joe Hart at Euro 2012? Was it the autobiography, translated to English and laced with expletives? Was it just the vineyard and the beard?

What we know is that somewhere along the line he achieved that highest form of footballing recognition: the stage at which a players name becomes synonymous with their position. The Pirlo role is understood worldwide as the one in which he did his best work: sitting in the pocket in front of the defence, picking out passes like an NFL quarterback.

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