Latest word from Milan is that Silvio Berlusconi is now willing to let Andrea Pirlo go; presumably to join Carlo Ancelotti at Stamford Bridge. While the first reports had Pirlo being swapped for Michael Essien, these reports give a price of around 20 million pounds.
The question is if Pirlo is really worth it and how can he prove that he is.
First, let us get the obvious critique out of the way: he is 30. In fact, he would be joining an aging club with Lampard, Anelka, Drogba, Ballack and Terry all at or pushing 30. Older players is something that Chelsea has been trying to move away from as of late pushing to sign young strikers and playmakers along with finally promoting or loaning out younger players like Di Santo and Mancienne.
The next critique is that he has not produced as of late either for club or country. Anyone that watched the World Cup in 2006, Euro 2008, and the recent disaster that is the Confederations Cup will tell you that Pirlo was the main creative force for these squads. His passing, tempo control, and free kicks have been amazing and are a big reason his team has any type of success.
Club is a little more complicated.
Coming off of a great performance in the Champions League final back in 2007, Pirlo's form has dropped of dramatically along with the fortunes of AC Milan. However, outside of Kaka and Pato, his teammates forms have dipped even more tellingly signalling it might not just be his fault so much as a lack of support.
Outside of these two critiques, the question is whether or not Pirlo can contribute at all to Chelsea's already powerful midfield. A midfield that stars Lampard, Ballack, Essien, Mikel, and Joe Cole. What can Pirlo do that these stars already cannot do?
Firstly, outside of Mikel, the other midfielders, while great at playing box-to-box, prefer to roam and attack. Lampard in fact might be the greatest attacking midfielder to ever play in England with a ridiculous amount of 19 and 20+ goal seasons.
Essien's work rate and ability to lock down an opponent have been integral to Chelsea's success, but having him sit back wastes his incredible ability to shoot and slash.
Ballack plays a game similar to Lampard but is more of a provider turned enforcer. However, this conversion has left him stifled and unable to become the transcending force he was in Germany.
Only in Joe Cole does Pirlo find a player similar to himself—someone who's dribbling and passing ooze flair and, dare I say, creativity. Smokin' Joe Cole's injury-marred season along with the injured Essien may have prevented Chelsea from de-throning Manchester United this season.
It is that aspect of the game that Pirlo could provide Chelsea immediately; and perhaps even for the future.
Chelsea is a team that has no lack of power, but are still less technically sound than their competitors. Not only that, but their creativity peaked for the month that Deco came in and was healthy. Additionally, Chelsea's title-winning seasons came when Makelele was given command of the back allowing Lampard, Cole, Drogba, and Essien to parade forward. Pirlo could provide a similar spark and role.
In the short term, he would fill in for Essien and Mikel while they are away on international duty at the beginning of the season. A midfield consisting of himself, Lampard, and Ballack could pay huge dividends to start the season.
Both of those players prefer to attack and express themselves moving forward. With Pirlo's sublime playmaking abilities, these two powerful midfielders would pound other defenses.
It is in the long term however that Pirlo may be able to provide the biggest boost to Chelsea. To explain this, one must look at his history with Ancelotti.
Pirlo began his career as an attack-minded midfielder, but under the guidance of Ancelotti became nothing less than a maestro. It is this conversion that is a major factor in Italy's World Cup win and AC Milan's impressive runs in the Champions League.
With Ancelotti and Pirlo, Chelsea could focus on the same training and conversion for one of their youngest stars in Mikel Jon Obi.
Though Mikel plays in the Makelele role when he is on the field, he prefers to move a little farther up and support attacks. He is a gifted athlete in the same vein as Michael Essien, but does not have the skills or training at the moment to express himself.
Pirlo could be that guiding force that changes that raw ability into a refined playmaker. Pirlo underwent a similar metamorphosis with the same coach and could make a large impact on a young player like Mikel. Even if Mikel only has 75 percent of Pirlo's playmaking abilities, combined with his age and athleticism, he would be the center of Chelsea's title runs for the next ten years.
Pirlo offers a chance to dominate for ten years for twenty-million pounds and a 31-year-old who might have a good run or two left in him. It is the gamble that occurs at the intersect of age and creativity.