Pirlo, a legendary player for Inter Milan, AC Milan and Juventus, is now making headlines as a manager when he hasn’t even submitted his final thesis to be called a qualified coach.
In Pirlo, Juve have the man who started chapter nine of his autobiography with the words: “I wouldn’t bet a single cent on me becoming a manager though. It’s not a job I’m attracted to. There are too many worries…”
It’s one thing to have taken on the role of Juve’s under-23 coach 17 days ago – a job without pressure – and quite another to take charge of Cristiano Ronaldo and company, while satisfying the obsessions of a side desperate for European success before the veterans retire.
Can the man nicknamed Maestro continue to impress as a coach like he managed as a player?
Since Juventus lost the Champions League final to Real Madrid in 2017, things have become a little stale. They introduced Ronaldo to excite the world and promote the Juve brand, and yet Max Allegri’s 2018-19 team looked more boring.
They brought in Sarri and Juve did not only continue to be boring, but they were now without the warrior spirit.
Chairman Andrea Agnelli realised he needs to gamble. So perhaps Pirlo could bring back the Juve soul that made the team so fun to watch?
Juventus have made it clear they want to continue promoting their brand to bring in a steady revenue, and sporting brilliance that won’t require a revolution. The bearded hipster, who played football like a god, satisfies both requirements.
Could it all end terribly?
We know so little about Pirlo as a coach that it’s difficult to even predict. As Giorgio Chiellini alluded to in his own book, great players who were ‘aliens’ on the pitch such as Pirlo, have to accept they need to deal with mere mortals when they become the coach.
Pirlo won’t be coaching either himself, or many players who possess his greatness – can he work with that or will it leave him frustrated?
But is this any more of a gamble than the decision to hire Sarri 14 months ago?
Sarri coached a beautiful Napoli side and lifted the Europa League with Chelsea, but he was still a man with a specific style of play who valued the aesthetic.
The gamble won Juve one trophy, and resulted in lots of Ronaldo eye rolls, a frustrated Leonardo Bonucci often calming Sarri down from the sidelines and endless criticism of the style of play.
Pirlo may not have the coaching experience, but he has other qualities that Agnelli hopes will speed up the development of the team.
Pirlo understands Serie A like few others. He played for Italy’s top three teams, understands the strengths and weaknesses of them all and the culture of the various clubs that will challenge him.
And if Ronaldo rolled his eyes at Sarri, he will not do the same to Pirlo. Like Zinedine Zidane at Real Madrid, Pirlo is a legend who has won so much and has to be emulated and respected.
Pirlo is bound to communicate with the players better than Sarri managed, after all he knows the likes of Gianluigi Buffon, Leonardo Bonucci and Chiellini well.
In terms of play, Pirlo might want his teams to dominate and have the ball at their feet. However, unlike Pep Guardiola or Gian Piero Gasperini at Atalanta, Pirlo is not convinced about making defensive sacrifices to benefit attack.
“In military terms,” Pirlo explained in his autobiography, “success starts in the zone behind the lines. Put more simply, the team that concedes the fewest goals wins the match.”
This could be welcome relief for Juve fans who watched the Old Lady concede over 40 goals and drop 21 points from winning positions this season.
What issues face Pirlo at Juve?
Juve have many fixing to do, from lowering the average age of the team to introducing a balanced midfield that will not only help transport the ball to forwards, but alleviate the pressure on defence.
Juve’s forward line boasts excellence in Ronaldo and Paulo Dybala, plus the young Dejan Kulusevski, who is set to arrive from Parma. At the back they have one of the greatest young defenders in the world in Matthijs de Ligt, two veterans in Chiellini and Bonucci who should be teaching defence at Harvard.
Where the problems arise are in the full-back and midfield positions. This is where Juve need his attention.
However, the most important is get Juve to enjoy playing football again. This past season under Sarri has been long, tedious and overly difficult.
Pirlo’s playing career
1998-2001 Inter Milan
1999-2000 Reggina (loan)
2001 Brescia (loan)
2001-2011 AC Milan
2015-2017 New York City