Juventus Hoping Pirlo Will Win in Europe

Juventus have entrusted their legendary midfielder Andrea Pirlo with the management of the club over the next season. Will he guide them to European glory? The board of the club is hopeful that the veteran ex-player will be able to coax the most out of Cristiano in the twilight of his career. Ronaldo has been a significant investment for the Old Lady but has not been successful in delivering the club’s first European trophy since 1996.

A football on the pitch with the stadium in the background.

Pirlo has been hired by his old club to manage for the coming season less for his tactical innovation than the harmony he will bring to the dressing room. ©jarmoluk/Pixabay

Ronaldo was purchased by the Italian giants back in 2018 for a huge fee of €100 million, and more than €300 million was offered to the player in wages over the course of his four-year contract. This fee seemed like a small price to pay considering the revenue the player was sure to bring in from shirt sales, but the club had the ultimate goal of winning the premier trophy in European football – the Champions League.

The Old Lady has entrusted the huge investment to one of its most renowned ex-players, Andrea Pirlo. Pirlo is widely considered to be one of the greatest players to ever wear the Juventus kit but is still very green behind the ears with regards to his management prowess. He had never coached football at any level prior to August but is now at the helm of one of the giants of European football.

Pirlo was first identified as a player with a very high ceiling when he was just a young boy as he outplayed those two or three years his senior, but this is not to say everything came easy to the budding player. Pirlo was born slightly too late to play alongside the legendary Italian no. 10s like Roberto Baggio or Gianfranco Zola but too late to spend his prime in the possession-based passing game that rose to prominence in the 2010s.

Pirlo also struggled on a physical level during his formative years playing football, and later on, in his career, he was never the biggest player on the pitch. A slight player who occupied a position that was rapidly finding itself with no place in the modern game, Pirlo had to forge his own path in the game.

The player transitioned to a deep-lying playmaker, and there’s a strong case to be made that he helped re-invent the game from this position. No player playing in the Italian Serie A fulfilled a similar role in the league previously.

Midfielders occupying deeper positions were traditionally hard men, with a penchant for tackling and relentless running between the boxes. At Milan, Pirlo pushed such players to one side and ushered in an era of more cultured and considered footballers playing in a “defensive” position. The fact that he achieved this at a side with the accolades of Milan is a testament to his ability.

Pirlo also faced challenges again in 2011, when he was in the latter stages of his career. At 32, he had won more or less every accolade a player can hope to win in their career and could have easily settled for a relatively easy end to his playing days in the MLS or a European team with less expectation than A.C. Milan when he was released on a free.

He opted for a new challenge, however, moving to Juventus the same year. Juventus were not a club that most pundits would have considered as an option for the central midfielder. They had just appointed a new and exciting manager in Antonio Conte, who was refining his innovative 4-2-4 formation. This did not have a clear-cut role for the Italian.

The pair found a solution to the issue, however, moving to a 3-5-2 formation that enabled Pirlo to extend his glory years well into his thirties at Juventus.

Pirlo as a Manager

It is his ability to read the game from a deeper position and dictate the pace of the game that has many excited about Pirlo’s appointment as manager. No one is in any doubt that he understands the game on a different level to many. His trademark long passes to exploit space behind the opposition’s back-line was not hit and hope football. It was rather a unique ability to read the game of football and tactical nous.

Despite this, the new role is a leap for the player who has overcome so much during his days as a professional footballer. As a player, you are responsible for your actions as part of a team and rarely have to make the difficult decisions that are involved in management at the highest level.

As a manager, you take on an entirely different job at a club. You have to nurture players to get the very best performance on the pitch whilst working within the strict limitations that the board sets. You can only direct players to reach the levels at which they are capable of playing and decide the tactical outlook of a side. Ultimately though, you are powerless when it comes to the crunch. Winning on the pitch comes down to the players alone at the end of the day.

Juventus have also taken a huge risk on the Italian. Pirlo has never managed at any level of the game and, as such, there is nothing for the Old Lady to base its decision on other than the man himself. Whilst the player and the man that Pirlo is have obviously impressed the board, there will often not translate to results on the pitch.

There has been a recent resurgence of ex-players returning to football at the highest levels, however. Steven Gerrard has been experiencing some joy as the manager at Rangers in Scotland despite having very little experience managing prior to this, and perhaps more prominently, Frank Lampard has been praised after a very successful first season with Chelsea in the Premier League.

Pirlo has a very different challenge on his hands, however. Juventus has been left with an aging side after the previous manager, Maurizio Sarri, was unceremoniously sacked following a disappointing Champions League run when the competition returned after lockdown. Sarri also described the team as “uncoachable”, although this may be more down to his innovative tactics rather than a reflection on the players.

The issue facing the new manager is the high expectations of the Juventus board. It is simply not enough for the Old Lady to perform in domestic competitions. The club has won the past nine straight league titles, and so for many, this is no longer a metric for success. No, the main aim of Juventus over recent years has been to achieve European glory.

To this end, it is highly unlikely that Pirlo will be revolutionizing the style of play that Juventus adopt over the coming season. The club is seemingly hoping that he will, instead, be able to coax the most out of a squad that will need rejuvenating the coming years, but that has bags of talent in its midst.

The man-management of Pirlo is what Juventus will be banking on if he can manage to squeeze the last amounts of quality from players of the ilk of Ronaldo, who will no doubt also be looking to win yet another Champions League title before his retirement. The squad is aging, but is full of quality and dynamism, and is a famously difficult side to break down.

There is still little indication of the style of football that the Italian maestro will be implementing, but Juventus won their first game of the season convincingly with a 3-0 victory over Sampdoria in which Ronaldo bagged a goal. The 35-year-old will no doubt be pivotal for the managerial debut of Pirlo, but it remains to be seen whether the club will reach the heights that Sarri missed out on with his highly technical, yet rigid style.

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