Where Andrea Pirlo Ranks Alongside Serie A's 20 Best Central Midfielders
Having recently looked at where Francesco Totti ranks among Italian football’s finest-ever strikers, the spotlight now falls upon another modern-day great still gracing the pitches of Serie A. For over a decade, Andrea Pirlo has strolled around the centre of midfield, comfortably the league’s best player in that position.
While other central midfielders run tirelessly and chase down opponents, the 34-year-old plays at his own pace, with unparalleled vision and passing ability. Able to create chances his peers could barely comprehend, Pirlo has the ability to make them look almost routine, all with the nonchalant style of a truly iconic player.
But judging his place historically is difficult—such is the wide variety of players filling the midfield area over the years—so for this ranking, only central midfielders are counted. On the following pages you will find the top 20 of all time, chosen in order of their impact on their own club and Italian football in general.
20. Nicola Berti
Nicola Berti was an integral part of Inter’s success in the early 1990s, helping the Nerazzurri to lift a Serie A title and three UEFA Cups. A stylish, rangy midfielder with a knack of scoring goals regularly, he also helped Italy to third place in the 1990 World Cup and won a runners-up medal four years later.
19. Daniele De Rossi
Daniele De Rossi Teams: Roma League Titles: None
Daniele De Rossi has been a mainstay at Roma for more than a decade, making almost 450 appearances for his hometown club. Has only won two Coppa Italia titles for all his effort, but has proven to be one of the most complete players of his generation and a real leader for the Giallorossi.
18. Lothar Matthaus
Lothar Matthaus Teams: Inter League Titles: 1
A man who has played more World Cup matches than any other outfield player, Lothar Matthaus was also a vital part of a hugely successful Inter side. Arriving in 1988, he lifted the league title, a UEFA Cup and was named World Player of the Year during his time with the Nerazzurri.
17. Didier Deschamps
Didier Deschamps Teams: Juventus League Titles: 3
French midfielder Didier Deschamps provided superb defensive cover for Marcello Lippi’s Juventus, winning eight major trophies in a five year stay. Was also captain of the triumphant Les Bleus side at the 1998 World Cup during the same period.
16. Antonio Conte
Antonio Conte Teams: Juventus League Titles: 5
The current Juventus coach Antonio was immense in the midfield of Marcello Lippi’s Bianconeri, lifting numerous trophies as he helped La Madama usurp the Milan monopoly of Serie A. Helped the Turin giants end a nine year Scudetto drought and into three consecutive Champions League Finals as he captained a side which swept all before them.
15. Frank Rijkaard
Frank Rijkaard Teams: Milan League Titles: 2
Part of the incredible Dutch trio brought to Milan by Silvio Berlusconi, Frank Rijkaard was less heralded than his countrymen but was equally vital to the Rossoneri. Arrigo Sacchi converted him from a defender to a dominant midfielder, perhaps the best holding player of his generation.
14. Demetrio Albertini
Teams: Milan, Lazio League Titles: 5
A San Siro legend, Demetrio Albertini helped the Rossoneri during their most glorious era, winning five Serie A titles and lifting two Champions League trophies. He moved on to Lazio, Atletico Madrid and Barcelona, but he will always be remembered as the midfield creator that all-conquering Milan side.
13. Carlo Ancelotti
Carlo Ancelotti Teams: Roma, Milan League Titles: 3
Captain of Roma in the early 1980’s, Carlo Ancelotti delivered the Scudetto and no fewer than four Italian Cup triumphs to the Giallorossi. His time in the capital ended in 1987 when he secured a move to Milan, winning two more Serie A titles and two European Cups in a five-year period.
12. Marcel Desailly
Teams: Milan League Titles: 2
Whilst he is better known outside of Italy as a central defender, Marcel Desailly’s time at Milan was spent dominating the midfield. He won the European Cup in his first season at San Siro, lifting four other trophies in a hugely successful five-year stint.
11. Ruud Gullit
Teams: Sampdoria, Milan League Titles: 3
Ruud Gullit arrived at Milan like a force of nature, helping the Rossoneri end a nine year wait for the Scudetto in his debut season. Moved to Sampdoria where he lifted the Coppa Italia before returning to San Siro for a second stint.
10. Giuseppe Giannini
Giuseppe Giannini Teams: Roma League Titles: 1
With flair and great technique, Giuseppe Giannini represented Roma for 16 years and was idolised by the Giallorossi faithful much like Francesco Totti is today. Winner of the 1983 Scudetto, he was also a part of the Italian World Cup squad which came third in the 1990 edition of the tournament.
9. Luis Monti
Teams: Juventus League Titles: 4
As one of the early immigrants to Italy from South America, Luis Monti holds the distinction of having represented two countries in a World Cup Final. Runner up with Argentina in 1930, he would win the tournament with Italy just four years later.
8, Ezio Loik
Teams: Milan, Venezia, Torino League Titles: 5
Alongside Valentino Mazzola, Ezio Loik formed one of the finest midfield partnerships in Italian football history. With both Venezia and Torino, the duo ruled Serie A, delivering seven trophies in a 12-year stint that was interrupted by the Second World War.
No sooner had peace descended on Europe, the Granata would be devastated forever as ever member of "il Grande Torino" was killed in the plane crash at Superga. The tragedy robbed the club of a team who had won five consecutive league titles, and Italian football would mourn the loss of its greatest-ever side.
7. Marco Tardelli
Teams: Juventus, Inter League Titles: 5
Marco Tardelli may be famous for his goal celebration in 1982, but there was far more to his game than the occasional stunning strike. The man who sealed that World Cup triumph was an impressive midfield lynchpin for both Juventus and Inter, excellent both on and off the ball while running tirelessly for his teams.
6. Giancarlo Antognoni
Teams: Fiorentina League Titles: None
Before Gabriel Batistuta, only one man could claim the hearts of everyone who held Fiorentina dear, gracing their midfield with style and class for over 15 years. Giancarlo Antognoni never left the Viola in search of titles, happy to remain in the Renaissance city he loved so much.
A World Cup winner in 1982, he had just a solitary Coppa Italia triumph to show for over 300 appearances for Fiorentina.
5. Romeo Benetti
Teams: Milan, Juventus, Roma League Titles: 5
Captain of Milan in the mid-'70s, Romeo Bonetti was a tough-tackling defensive midfielder with a surprisingly high scoring rate. He blossomed late in his career, bouncing around some of Italy’s lesser lights before landing at Juventus in 1968, but would leave after just one season.
Already 25, he joined the Rossoneri and within a year was an Italy regular, representing the Azzurri in the 1970 and 1974 editions of the World Cup. Returning to Turin he won numerous titles, eventually moving on to Roma where he lifted yet another Scudetto in his final season.
4. Gianni Rivera
Teams: Milan League Titles: 3
The "Golden Boy" of Milan, Gianni Rivera played over 500 games for the Rossoneri and helped bring many titles to San Siro. In addition to the three Scudetti, he would win four European trophies and the 1969 Intercontinental Cup.
International and individual honours also followed, with the playmaker central to Italy’s 1968 European Championship win and was named European Player of the Year 12 months later. He was also Serie A’s leading scorer in 1973 and a four-time winner of the Coppa Italia.
3. Andrea Pirlo
Teams: Milan, Juventus League Titles: 4
So it is here, in third place, where we find Andrea Pirlo, the maestro at the heart of two of Serie A’s most dominant sides of recent years. Central to the Carlo Ancelotti era at Milan, he moved on to Juventus once he felt Massimiliano Allegri had marginalised him at San Siro.
Sporting a beard to rival Chuck Norris, he has been reborn under Antonio Conte, forming part of a perfectly balanced midfield with Arturo Vidal and Claudio Marchisio. He has lifted two Champions League titles and was arguably Italy’s best player during their triumphant 2006 World Cup campaign.
2. Beppe Furino
Teams: Juventus League Titles: 8
Three hundred sixty-one appearances, a record eight league titles and captain of Juventus as she won her first continental trophy in 1977, Beppe Furino is undoubtedly the greatest midfielder to ever represent La Madama. The Sicilian was an integral part of Giovanni Trapattoni’s all-conquering side of that era, he would wear the Bianconeri shirt for no less than 15 seasons.
A tireless runner, he was superb at recovering the ball and passing it to his more talented team-mates, a perfect foil for the superb Michel Platini when the Frenchman arrived in Turin. A charismatic leader, a tough and gritty emblem of that spirit of humility Juventus has always possessed in the more unheralded members of her squads.
1. Valentino Mazzola
Teams: Venezia, Torino League Titles: 5
Simply put, Valentino Mazzola is perhaps the greatest to ever play the game on the peninsula. The captain of the Grande Torino side of the late 1940s, he led the Granata to five successive league titles, a tally which would have surely been far greater were it not for the Superga tragedy and the outbreak of World War II.
Able to take up roles in defence, midfield and attack during his career, he netted 102 goals in 175 appearances for Torino, drawing praise as a complete player from those fortunate enough to see him play. “He alone is half the squad,” team-mate Mario Rigamonti once said. “The other half is made by the rest of us together.”
Taken from us at the age of just 30, Mazzola is rarely recognised on a global scale as one of the game’s finest ever players.