One of the greatest players of his—or any—generation is still going strong for both club and country.
Andrea Pirlo began his career as a trequartista until his time under coach Carlo Mazzone on loan at Brescia in 2001. It seemed like a strange place for him to go, seeing as how he wasn't breaking into the attacking midfield at parent club Inter and Brescia boasted a supreme trequartista in Roberto Baggio.
Mazzone solved this logjam by moving Pirlo into a deep-lying position with Baggio at the head of the midfield. The move paid dividends immediately. The biggest sign came when Pirlo turned supplier to one of Baggio's most iconic moments.
Brescia trailed Baggio's former club Juventus in the dying moments at the Stadio delle Alpi when Pirlo received the ball at the halfway line and lofted a perfect ball over the defense. Baggio's part in the goal will always be what's really remembered—he controlled the ball, rounded keeper Edwin van der Sar and scored all in two touches—but few other players would have had the genius to make the pass or the skill to stick it.
His breakthrough in the position was noticed, and crosstown rivals Milan purchased him from Inter that summer. His next two coaches, Fatih Terim and Carlo Ancelotti, developed him there, and he became an absolute fixture in Milan's lineup for the next decade.
The results of those 10 years—and the three spent since at Juventus—have turned Pirlo into one of the game's ultimate players. His vision, inventiveness at the back of midfield, and pinpoint accuracy have guided his teams to one Serie B title, four scudetti, a Coppa Italia, two Champions League wins and the crowning achievement of the all—a World Cup title in 2006.
Pirlo was named Man of the Match three times at Germany 2006, including in both the semifinal and final. He won the Bronze Ball as the tournament's third-best player and made the all-star team of both that tournament, Euro 2012 and the 2013 Confederations Cup.
As he comes to the end of his career, Andrea Pirlo deserves to be honored as the greatest passer in the history of the Italian game.