Before the move to the United States, before the somewhat convincing notion that Juventus will be okay without him, even before the beard a cult hero-like status, Andrea Pirlo was as silky smooth a midfielder as we've seen in this generation. 'Maestro' was such a hitting notion for somebody who directed the midfield and made it look sooooo damn easy and sooooo damn cool when everything was on point.
Pirlo was as good of a free transfer as you will ever see take place. Milan said "Goodbye and good luck," and Juventus welcomed him with open arms. They then handed him the keys to the car and everything that comes with it and never looked back. (Pretty good decision from the good guys, I must say.)
But now we must say goodbye to the man who has created almost as many memes with his beard being unimpressed with things as he's dished out passes over the top of defense in his four-year Juventus career. The news was not a surprise nor any kind of sudden development. Talk of Pirlo heading to New York had been as frequent both here in the U.S. and over in Italy for weeks before the signing became official, with plenty of Pirlo sightings in New York happening in between.
It's true that NYCFC won't be getting the exact same version of Pirlo that first arrived at Juventus in the summer of 2011. But, even then, it's not like that's breaking news if you've followed Pirlo over the last few years. I will choose to remember the Pirlo who first joined Juventus because that's pretty much the only Pirlo we should remember and put up on the pedestal. He's just been that good for so long, it's hard to think of him any other way.
Just take the first official game Pirlo played in a Juventus jersey, a 4-1 win over Parma as Juventus Stadium opened up its doors with a vintage performance. It was, for every single way to describe it, a sign of things to come — both from Pirlo and the club as a whole. Pirlo got the assist on Stephan Lichtsteiner's opener as well as on the final Juventus goal of the day by a flying Claudio Marchisio.
You see, that's what made Pirlo so good. And it wasn't just in that game; it was for most of his four years with Juventus. His genius is that he makes the extraordinary look absolutely routine. It's the reason why he became some sort of folk hero during his time at Juventus. (I'm sure the beard and vineyard pictures helped, too.) Forty-yard ball over the top and put right on the striker in stride? Yeah, no big deal. Free kick in the dying minutes when Juve need a goal? It's all good.
It's those kinds of moments, ones that made the Juventus Stadium crowd simply go "Ooooh!!!" whenever he made one of his slick moves and spun away from a defender like it was no big deal at all, we will always remember. The class and ability of Pirlo is one we've seen few times in a Juventus jersey in the past few decades. Or ever, for that matter. And maybe that's why he is being shown so much appreciation despite being around for "only" four seasons.
But Pirlo was around for a special team in this club's history. He was an incredibly massive part of the rebirth and current run of four straight Serie A titles. Those Dark Ages we speak of? They're not so long in the past where we can't touch them, but they seem long gone because of everything Juventus have accomplished since the summer of 2011. That's a direct result of adding Pirlo to play alongside Marchisio, Arturo Vidal (also signed in the summer of 2011) and Paul Pogba (signed in the summer of 2012) as they created one of the best midfields in the game.
There were so many good times it's hard to recount them all. The passes were plentiful, the wins just as frequent. Pirlo was the hub of the Juventus midfield in every sense of the word. His wide array of free kicks seemingly became locks for month-long stretches. He even scored a few memorable goals from open play, too.
It was the class Pirlo exhibited that Milan thought was no longer present. And it was Juventus which reaped all of those lovely rewards.
Andrea Pirlo is simply one of a kind. I don't know what else to say, really. There won't be a player like him for decades to come — if ever. He was one of the best of his generation, and it was quite enjoyable to see him experience four years of his distinguished career in bianconero. (He looked quite good in those stripes, huh?)
Cheers to you, too, Andrea. You magnificent footballer who makes the simply world-class in difficulty look relatively routine. Who knows when we'll see anybody like you in the future — if ever again.