Andrea Pirlo searches for a teammate against Chievo.
Andrea Pirlo is one of the greatest midfielders ever to play the game. Over the course of his glorious career, he has won four Scudetti (and is well on his way to a fifth), two Champions League crowns, a Coppa Italia, three Supercoppas and two UEFA Super Cups.
Along with his club accolades comes his crowning achievement: the 2006 World Cup title.
Pirlo is a dying breed in the modern game. With powerful, goalscoring box-to-box midfielders like Yaya Toure and Pirlo's Juventus teammate Arturo Vidal coming to prominence, the deep-lying "regista" position that Pirlo has made his own since his days on loan with Brescia in 2001 is becoming less prevalent. Such is the brilliance of the man called "l'architetto" that he has kept the role alive almost single-handedly.
No career can last forever, and at 34 years old, Pirlo's finally beginning to wind down. He announced last year that he would retire from international soccer after this summer's World Cup, and there is uncertainty over the status of his contract negotiations with Juventus.
Despite his age, he continues to excel on the field. What's the secret behind his sustained success? Let's take a look and find out.
Andrea Pirlo salutes Juve's fans after being substituted at Real Madrid in the Champions League.
No player can go forever in his mid-30s, and even Pirlo has accepted that he'll need the occasional day on the bench.
Antonio Conte has occasionally subbed Pirlo off this season as the situation dictated. Whether to rest him after the job is done, or as was the case two weeks ago when Juve played Catania, Conte simply wanted to up the tempo; Pirlo has been rested more often than in seasons past. Not counting the December match where he left after 14 minutes due to injury, Pirlo has played less than the full 90 minutes five times—more than has been normal for him in a relatively healthy season.
Conte has also given Pirlo more games off—like last week against Sampdoria. The month-long layoff forced by his leg injury probably didn't hurt him either. It would have allowed him to give the rest of his body some time off while his knee recovered.
Looking into the future, the lack of an international commitment after the World Cup in the summer will be a major help for extending his club career in the future. The summer without extensive international fixtures has been rare for Pirlo, and without that, you can be certain Pirlo's batteries will be recharged every season.
Pirlo searches for targets while captaining Italy during the November 18 friendly against Nigeria.
One of Pirlo's greatest assets is something that isn't subject to Father Time: his vision.
Pirlo excels at finding open teammates from distance and extrapolating which players can make it to a long ball into space.
A skill like that isn't going to go away, and so long as he has the room to maneuver, it will allow him to find his teammates whether he's 34 or 24.
Pirlo and Vidal celebrate against AC Milan.
Now that Pirlo is older and less able to create space to operate from deep on his own, he is more dependent on his teammates to keep opposing defenders off of him and allow him the room to work his magic.
He is fortunate that both club and country provide the perfect men for the job.
At Juve, Pirlo has the incomparable Arturo Vidal at his side. Vidal is a prime target for Pirlo's passes when he's in the box, but the Chilean superstar is just as important to Pirlo further back. Vidal's own offensive capabilities and the physical play off the ball that has given him the nickname Il Guerriero clears players away from Pirlo so the maestro can pick out his passes.
Similarly, Pirlo can rely on the pit bull style of Daniele De Rossi when he is on international duty. The two have been a team for the Azzurri since the 2006 World Cup, and their rapport has become excellent. Like Vidal, De Rossi is hard-nosed in the tackle but dangerous enough on the ball to afford Pirlo the space to operate.
Without players like this backing him up, Pirlo would be subject to tight marking and unable to find the time to play his game. With players like De Rossi and Vidal at his back, he can deliver the passes that have made him famous.
Andrea Pirlo plays the ball in the Champions League.
The nature of the regista position makes it ideally suited for a player of Pirlo's age.
Unlike many younger midfielders, like his teammates Arturo Vidal, Claudio Marchisio and Paul Pogba, Pirlo's position and role in the side allows him to avoid lung-searing, long-distance sprints from box to box.
Instead, Pirlo can afford to be more economical in his movement. He can trigger a move with a long ball and then glide from a spot right in front of the back line to a more advanced position in the opposing half, where he can direct proceedings with his pinpoint passes. If his team loses possession, Pirlo can then get back into a defensive position without expending as much energy as his midfield mates, who are farther into the opposing box.
This economy of movement allows him to save real burst for situations where it's truly needed and puts less overall stress on his aging muscles and joints, keeping him fresher for longer.