Pirlo shows his class
Published: 29.06.12 / Written by: David Gold
It should have been little surprise that Andrea Pirlo is possibly the star of the European Championships so far.
This is the man who last summer was deemed surplus to requirements at the then Italian champions AC Milan. They were soon taught a lesson, their title taken from them by Pirlo and Juventus, whom he joined before the start of the season.
All year long Pirlo has demonstrated why he is one of the best passers in Europe, and one of the most impressive playmakers, too. Juventus were unbeaten, and he was at the heart of much that was good about them, prompting their play, directing their attacks, passing from deep as opponents were willing to give him the time to hurt them. And he took full advantage. Pirlo was possibly the key man going forward for Italy on their march to the 2006 World Cup, and is showing that same quality once more.
Unlike other playmakers, such as Mesut Ozil, Xavi or a few years ago, Zinedine Zidane, Pirlo plays in a withdrawn role. In fact, he is like an American quarter back in their version of football as he tends to, like them, sit back away from the offence, and play incisive long balls forward for forwards to convert. He sits in that defensive midfield position but he is not a defensive midfielder. Instead, Cesare Prandelli has played Daniele de Rossi in front of him to drop back and help out defensively. But by playing there, Pirlo has the perfect vantage point from which to launch attacks for his team.
As England showed at the weekend, if you give Pirlo time, he will hurt you. Indeed his supreme class was epitomised best by the brilliant penalty he took in the shoot out. Few have the guts to try and chip the ball down the middle of the goal at any penalty, let alone when the stakes are so high. Fewer still, such as the great Antonin Panenka who scored in such a way to win the Czechoslovaks the 1976 European Championship, can do so with such brilliant style. It was Pirlo saying, "this is how good I am". The penalty was so brilliantly executed, impudent and creative, that Joe Hart was left simply confounded. It was supreme intelligence too. Hart had said he had studied where the Italian players put their penalties. Unsurprisingly, most seemed to select the less usual side of the goal to shoot as a result, and Pirlo more than anyone used that logic.
It summed him up. Technically brilliant, accurate and intelligent. He is not a "warrior" in the traditional sense, and does not run around as much as some, but there are few as good as him, and he does not need to charge around the field like Lee Cattermole on pro plus. He is a player for whom the game can stop and wait, as so often he made it against England. Another two performances like that, and Pirlo could once again lead his country to a surprise win at a major international tournament.