Andrea Pirlo faced many players in his career that have since crossed over to become top-level managers.
In his midfield position alone take Patrick Vieira at Nice, Steven Gerrard at Rangers and Frank Lampard at Chelsea. All three had a bit of bite to them, a steeliness that they were not to be messed with – on the pitch or in the dressing room.
To many, that is the archetypal player-turned-manager personality. And yet here is Pirlo, handed the reins of the Juventus first team for his first coaching role, and he holds a persona that could not appear to be more different.
It is rather amazing it has even come to this, Pirlo the man expected to deliver a 10th successive Scudetto for Juventus. For a long while, he had no appetite for management, then something changed.
‘I wouldn’t advise anyone to predict me having a future as a coach,’ he wrote in his 2013 book ‘I Think Therefore I Play‘. ‘It’s not the sort of job I’d be enthusiastic about. Too many things to worry over, and a way of life too similar to being a player.’
Pirlo, now 41, made football look easy, effortless, but now he is not in control on the pitch which brings its own challenges. He’ll also have to decide if he will make his new players undergo the one thing he despised as a player: the pre-match warm-up.
‘I hate it with every fibre of my being,’ he continued in his book. ‘It actually disgusts me. It’s nothing but masturbation for conditioning coaches, their way of enjoying themselves at the players’ expense.’
Management typically requires a total buy-in, a borderline obsessiveness for competition and for finding the minutest detail to get the edge over rivals.
For a character like Pirlo it never seemed a suitable fit, all the angst, the worry, the invasion of privacy.
The flowing hair, laid-back personality, his nonchalance as a player, from the outside few would have predicted his start as a coach would come with his country’s biggest and most scrutinised side.
Pirlo, who spent four years anchoring the Juventus midfield, retired from football in 2017 to focus on his family-run winery, based in Brescia.
His Pratum Coller winery was founded in 2007, boasts 15 acres in size and produces more than 20,000 bottles of red and white wine a year. It seemed like Pirlo was ready to kick-back, relax and enjoy a glass of his finest bottle in his life after football.
That love for wine is said to go back to his childhood living in Flero, a small area in Brescia, where he would harvest grapes at nearby vineyards.
His Instagram boasts more than seven million followers and the style with which he oozes as he tends to the grounds of the vineyard has been synonymous with his personal brand. He could quite easily have taken a backseat and stayed worry-free.
But as he tended to dinner with his family at the vineyard, out came the tactics board as he scribbled around with his preferred 4-3-3 system. He still had something to offer, so what he wasn’t the typical personality we have come to expect on the touchline? He took his UEFA Pro Licence course in 2019 and was top of the class. Pirlo’s U-turn was complete.
‘He’s a quiet leader,’ Cesare Prandelli, Pirlo’s manager for four years with Italy, once said. ‘But when he speaks, the rest of the dressing room sits up and listens.’
And that really is the key. Not only will he command immediate respect for what he did as a player – a World Cup, two Champions Leagues and six Serie A titles will do the trick – his astute tactical brain can refocus what has become a disillusioned and at times lost Juventus dressing room.
Take the midfield, a position where Pirlo established himself as a legend of the game. Sarri typically went for Rodrigo Bentancur, Miralem Pjanic and Adrien Rabiot.
Arthur, who will be the closest player in the squad to what Pirlo was in his days for Juventus, is arriving from Barcelona and there is no finer teacher in the game for these players than Pirlo.
Paul Pogba, now at Manchester United but for a time a team-mate sharing a dressing room with Pirlo in Turin, would dispel any suggestions that Pirlo’s laissez-faire personality will be a hindrance to him as a coach.
‘Playing with Pirlo is fantastic; every day you learn something from him,’ Pogba reflected in 2015.
‘He’s been a top player for many years. When you look at him you just want to be like him.’
Marcello Lippi, one of the doyens of Italian managers, also gave a glowing appraisal when quizzed on what makes Pirlo tick.
‘He is a silent leader,’ Lippi said. ‘He is a champion and he is able to adapt himself to any tactical situation. He has class, intelligence and personality.’
Pirlo is a private person, fiercely private to those he doesn’t know but to those who know him best, he is always the first to crack a joke and lighten the mood. He will open himself up and give his heart if you earn his trust. He is fiercely intelligent and will look to play a style similar to that of his former team-mate Pep Guardiola.
He knows how to coach, knows how Juventus functions and ultimately he has shown since he was a teenager at Brescia that he was born to win.
Pirlo will just hope he is still able to toast a glass of his famous wine now the eyes of the world are watching him.