On Saturday, Juventus broke the internet, in Italy at least, when they announced the sacking of Maurizio Sarri as head coach and the hiring of Andrea Pirlo – the man without an ounce of coaching experience on his CV.
Pirlo, accustomed to making headlines as a legendary player for, among others, 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.
Pirlo? Really? 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 10 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.
Yet Pirlo is used to surprising us. Can the man nicknamed Maestro continue to impress us 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 Cristiano Ronaldo to excite the world and promote the Juve brand, and yet Max Allegri’s 2018-19 team looked more boring than ever.
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. He felt Antonio Conte was a gamble that worked, while Allegri was the hated Milan coach and yet his arrival bought even more joy.
So perhaps Pirlo, the former Milan maestro and Juventus legend, could bring back the Juve soul that made the team so fun to watch in the earlier seasons of this dynasty.
Juventus have made it clear they want to continue promoting the Juventus brand – the Juve lifestyle if you wish – to bring in a steady revenue and they want sporting brilliance that won’t require a revolution. The bearded hipster, who played football like a god, satisfies both requirements.
Everyone will tune into to watch the masterful Ronaldo under the guidance of the cool Pirlo, spending their hard earned cash on the merchandise this will surely produce and perhaps Pirlo’s suggested pragmatism will finally get this collection of individuals to play as a team.
Absolutely. 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?
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But is this any more of a gamble than the decision to hire Sarri 14 months ago?
Sarri coached a beautiful Napoli side and had lifted the Europa League with Chelsea, but he was still a man with a specific style of play who valued the aesthetic.
As it transpired, the gamble won them one trophy, barely, 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. Sarri was truly a gamble and probably no more than Pirlo is.
Pirlo may not have the coaching experience, and that will be a problem at some stage, but he has other qualities that Agnelli hopes will speed up the development of the team.
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 when Sarri spoke, no-one will do the same when it comes to Pirlo. Like Zinedine Zidane at Real Madrid, Pirlo is a legend who has won so much and is there to be emulated and respected.
We know 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.
And Pirlo has the self-confidence and belief that Juventus should always be winning, so he won’t be expressing the sort of anxiety we regularly saw from Sarri.
In terms of play, all we can provide is conjecture. We know Pirlo wants his teams to dominate the game and have the ball at their feet, much like most modern coaches.
However, unlike someone like Pep Guardiola, who he respects hugely, 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 their side concede over 40 goals this season and lose 21 points from winning positions.
Juve have many problems that need fixing, from lowering the average age of the team to introducing a balanced midfield that will not only help transport the ball to the likes of Ronaldo, 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 – according to Jose Mourinho – and Merih Demiral, the pride of Turkey’s defence.
Where the problems arise are in the full-back positions and, most importantly, in midfield – Andrea Pirlo’s domain. This is where Juve need his attention, his recommendations and his eye to co-ordinate.
However, the most important thing Pirlo needs to do is get his Juve to enjoy playing football again – this past season under Sarri has been long, tedious and overly difficult.
This is a team that should be enjoying the success they’ve managed, the brilliance of their various individuals and the friendships that exist all over the club.
It’s time to have fun playing the way Liverpool do, and the way Real Madrid have over the years, and maybe, just maybe, they can win some trophies too.
Relive the best of the action from day 13 of London 2012, including Usain Bolt in the 200m final and success in the ring for Nicola Adams and Katie Taylor.
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