On Sunday, I was given the opportunity to attend a special event in Manhattan set up by the UEFA Champions League Trophy Tour presented by Heineken. The event saw a group of rec league soccer players get surprised by Andrea Pirlo, with the Champions League trophy in tow. For a fuller idea of how the whole night went, you can look here.
In addition to reporting on the event, I was given one other little perk: A few minutes with the Maestro himself to ask a few questions.
Pirlo himself is a wonderful fellow. While he is the man of few words that his reputation makes him out to be, he is also much more prone to cracking a grin than that famous — and ingenious — #Pirloisnotimpressed video from 2014 would have you believe. All you have to do is read his excellent autobiography (which is available translated to English, for those of you who are interested) to know that he definitely loves to have some fun — he was one of the chief practical jokers in most of the locker rooms he was part of.
He certainly looked to be having a good time despite the fact that he was in the midst of a long weekend, having attended another tour event the day before to watch his last club, NYCFC, play at Yankee Stadium. But he’s always game to help bring experiences to fans and to promote the growth of the game. “I think it’s always a pleasure to promote these events,” he told me, “not only for American soccer but in any country.”
Pirlo spent 24 years as a professional player. We here at BWRAO, of course, think best of his four-year stint in Turin, where he was a key cog in waking Juventus from their post-Calciopoli doldrums and building the Bianconeri into the juggernaut they are today. But he played his first professional minutes in the 1994-95 season as a product of the Brescia youth system. He was picked up by Inter but never gained a foothold there, going on loan to Reggina and back to Brescia. It was there that he transformed from the attacking midfielder that he came up as to the deep-lying playmaker that became a legend. The next season he was sold across town to AC Milan, and the rest was history.
Pirlo is pensive about his long career and how he’s seen the game evolve. “Soccer always changes,” he said. “Since the time I started many things have changed, but soccer goes on, like life. It is always necessary to evolve and improve.”
We’re all a little uncertain about Juve’s future after their Champions League exit against Ajax last month, and I asked Pirlo which of the players that have been linked to Juve — players like Federico Chiesa, Tanguy Ndombele, and Mathijs de Ligt — might make the biggest impact on the team next season. But like so many athletes, he didn’t exactly rise to the bait. “There are many names going around now, but the Serie A season is not over yet and the mercato is not officially open,” he replied. “There are people at Juventus that do this who know how to do this job very well and will try to get the best players for the team.”
He was a bit more bullish on other subjects, including Juve’s teen sensation Moise Kean, of whom he said “He is doing very well, even though he is very young. He has big players ahead of him, but he had his chances this year and he took advantage of them in the best possible way, both at Juventus and also the national team.” On a related note, he endorsed the recent establishment of B teams as a way to potentially develop more talented youngsters like Kean, stating, “The players from the Primavera can play in a more competitive league in Serie C ... It’s positive to create these teams, because this way many kids can go out from the youth sector and play with senior level players.”
He’s equally open when discussing his time in the United States. When asked what the U.S. Soccer Federation could do differently to take the next step as a footballing nation, Pirlo had some critiques of how the highest levels of the game here are organized. “As I always used to say when I was playing here, for the US league there is the need to change a few rules to make it a more European-style league.” He then suggested the introduction of promotion and relegation and of opening up the league’s transfer market, making it “like every other league.”
Our time with him was brief, and he was soon ushered to the next part of the event, but in that time we experienced all facets of the iconic player — the insightful mind that could deliver cutting analysis, and, yes, the sportsman’s non-answer to questions that he may not have wanted to make waves with. But one thing was certain in those minutes: he’s ready to continue making an impact on the game for a long time to come.
BWRAO would like to thank Mattia Fumagalli for graciously donating his time to serve as Sam’s interpreter for this interview.