Could Juventus' Andrea Pirlo Realistically Thrive in the Premier League?

Graham Ruthven@@grahamruthvenFeatured ColumnistMay 13, 2015

Juventus' Andrea Pirlo during a Serie A soccer match between Juventus and Atalanta at the Juventus stadium, in Turin, Italy, Friday, Feb. 20, 2015. (AP Photo/ Massimo Pinca)
Massimo Pinca/Associated Press

There’s a picture of Andrea Pirlo that often does the rounds on social media. It depicts the Italian midfielder sat in a vineyard, legs crossed in relaxation, wine glass in hand. It only serves to underline that Pirlo is something of a footballing anomaly whose personality as a suave introvert somehow translates into his on-field character.

Indeed, the Juventus man is a different kind of midfield maestro. In a game that increasingly puts more and more emphasis on movement, mobility and physicality, Pirlo is the one player who bucks the trend but sits it down and hands it a wine list.

Massimo Pinca/Associated Press

Generally speaking, most footballers’ autobiographies are given a generic title meaning very little. Pirlo’s is called "I think therefore I play," reflecting the way in which the Italian approaches the sport. Football is a smarter sport with Pirlo playing.

However, for all that Pirlo has achieved—and the manner with which he has achieved it—there remains one check box yet to be ticked. The midfielder has nothing left to prove—having won Serie A seven times, the Champions League twice and the World Cup once—but has never played outside Italy. 

At 35 years of age, that opportunity might have passed Pirlo by, but with the midfielder’s contract set to expire next year, Juventus might be tempted to eke some value out of the player while there still is some. And if that is the case, then Pirlo will have no shortage of Premier League suitors.

Video Play Button
Videos you might like

In fact, speculation has already linked Pirlo with a summer move to Chelsea, Liverpool and even Manchester City. But would a move for the midfielder be such a wise move, given his age and decline over the past season or so?

While Pirlo might not have many more years left in the tank, he remains one of the finest anchoring midfielders in the European game. Few can dictate the pace of a game like he can from his deep-lying position, with his passing ability probably the best seen in football since Paul Scholes retired. 

Pirlo actually seems to have gotten better with age, as he showed for Italy in the 2012 European Championships—where he was one of the players of the tournament. But at Juventus he is used in a midfield three that generally protects him and allows others to exert themselves so Pirlo doesn’t have to. Would he have the same luxury in England?

At Chelsea, Pirlo probably wouldn’t command a first-team place, with Cesc Fabregas and Nemanja Matic the favoured midfield duo. Jose Mourinho demands a degree of defensive responsibility from his players, and, while Pirlo protects the defence to a certain extent, it could never be claimed that he provides the same rigidity as someone like Matic.

However, Mourinho has worked with players like Pirlo before. Xabi Alonso flourished under the management of the Portuguese coach at Real Madrid, and at Chelsea he could use someone like Pirlo as an option to see out games. For instance, Chelsea’s Champions League exit to PSG might have gone somewhat differently had Pirlo played for the Blues.

Pirlo has had previous opportunities to make the move to the Premier League, with Carlo Ancelotti a keen suitor of the midfielder during his time as manager at Chelsea.“I have a very strong connection with Ancelotti so I was in touch with him when he went to Chelsea,” the midfielder admitted in 2012, before revealing that he had also spoken to Paris Saint-Germain—as per Chris Wheeler of the Daily Mail. “I had already started negotiating with Chelsea but then finally Milan didn’t let me go.”

Massimo Pinca/Associated Press

But Chelsea wouldn’t necessarily be the only Premier League option for Pirlo. If the door is indeed opened for the Blues to pull off his signing, others will be looking to slink through, putting their pitch forward to the Italian.

United will likely enter the transfer market for a holding midfielder this summer, with Louis van Gaal admitting that only Michael Carrick can perform the role for his side—which is a problem when Carrick is injured. In that sense, if he is willing to rotate, Pirlo would be a good option for the Old Trafford club.

There would also be a place for someone like Pirlo in Liverpool’s first team, with Steven Gerrard swapping Merseyside for the Hollywood Hills and questions persisting over Lucas Leiva’s capacity as a holding midfielder. But would the Italian be content with missing out on the Champions League in his last few years as a top-level football player?

The signing of Pirlo would signal something of a shift in approach from Manchester City were the Italian to end up at the Etihad Stadium. Yaya Toure is on his way out of the club, and so Pirlo would be a more restrained option in the centre of midfield—perhaps giving City the central control that they have often lacked this season.

Of course, if Pirlo is to leave Juventus this summer—perhaps after a Champions League final appearance, which the Old Lady are on the brink of—there will be more than just Premier League suitors for the midfielder’s signature.

Antonio Calanni/Associated Press

North America, for instance, has been mentioned as a possible destination for Pirlo, with several Major League Soccer clubs keen to capture the Italian midfielder. It has even been suggested that with Xavi Hernandez set to leave Barcelona this summer, Pirlo could pitch up at the Camp Nou as a short-term replacement.

Pirlo would still be a man in demand should he be made available on the market this summer, but he’s no longer a midfielder to build a team around as he once was even just a couple years ago. He would be an auxiliary option for pretty much every top-end Premier League team, perhaps besides Liverpool.

There aren’t many—if any—players like Pirlo, and that has always been his biggest selling point. On that basis, he would still hold at least some value should he make the move from Juventus this summer.