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Was Pirlo sacked, or did he sack himself?

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With a new season coming up, it would be easy for Juventus management to belittle the mistakes that were made, and move on. If we were in 2020, it would have been almost understandable. Sarri was in his first (and last) year, the team wasn’t built for his style of football, and the new arrivals didn’t quite compute.

But we are not in 2020, we are aleady in 2021, and for the second year in a row, Juventus sacked his manager, leaving supporters and the team with plenty incertitudes about the future. Yes, Allegri’s comeback and a new management put everything in order again and it will almost certainly bring some new ideas and some fresh spirit to the team, but as the saying goes: “fool me one, shame on you, fool me twice shame on me”.

Analysing the previous year, I was always a little suspicious about Pirlo’s choice.

I read his autobiography in the past (“I think, therefore i play”), and talking about his future, he easily discarded the possibility of becoming a manager: “I wouldn’t bet a single cent of me becoming a manager, though. It’s not a job i’m attracted to. There are too many worries and the lifestyle is far too close to that of a player. I’ve done my bit and, in the future, i’d like to get back even a semblance of a private life.” 

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I don’t want to be that guy, but maybe Paratici and Agnelli should have known his opinions, before giving him the keys of La Continassa.

In the book, aside from this view, there was a full chapter where he praised Antonio Conte as the best coach he ever had: “If Arrigo Sacchi was a genius, then what does that make Conte? I was expecting him to be good, but not that good”.

When Juventus announced him as the new manager, i was hoping he would have at least changed his mind about the all “lifestyle”, and i wanted him to show his energy and focus from the first minute as the new Juventus coach.

I was already picturing him in the football field, with his team behind him, studying the grass of the pitch, flying drones, talking to the warehousemen, as Conte would have done. Antonio was a machine, a real all-around man, always ahead of things, knowing everything about everyone. Every problem already had a solution, in his mind. Instead Andrea, on the same day he was appointed, went playing futsal with some friends…

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In his first press conference, Pirlo talked about some pretty abstract ideas of football: “My style of play? I want to play proactive football and dominate the play”, and again: “You must always have the ball, and when you lose it, you must get it back quickly”.

One of the great strengths of the new coach was his “Aura” of a football Legend. His ex teammates were very happy to finally be trained by someone they respected (there were rumours that during the 2019 International League, Sarri stormed the locker room, shouting and cursing, asking himself how Napoli- his former team from 2015 to 2018 – could have lost a championship to a team such as the one he was training in that moment).

Professors at Coverciano (Italian’s national training school for managers) and trainers were praising his skills (?!). Cristiano Ronaldo was finally free from the strict predicaments of Sarriball, and the future seemed bright.

It was quite obvious, from the first appearances, that the team hadn’t still digested Sarri’s football lessons, and when Pirlo arrived with his new “concepts”, everything mixed up and you could see great confusion when La Vecchia Signora began losing the control of the ball. The defence was sometimes a 4, sometimes a 5 men front, with the fullbacks alligning with the midfielders, to gain control of the midfield and to move almost all the team in the attacking side.

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Occasionally his ideas would work splendidly, and it was quite nice to see how fast the ball was moving, making it impossible for the defenders to close. Most of the times, yet, the plays were repetitive and stagnant, and it was quite easy to stop Juventus attacks. It sufficed to put all the menpower in the last 30 metres, and wait for the first missed pass to start a counterattack, finding prairies to ride unchallenged.

In the second official match of the 2020/2021 season, in Stadio Olimpico against Roma, it was already obvious that a wellput team could easily create big spaces and badly hurt Pirlo’s schemes. It was on Ronaldo’s shoulders, as almost always, to save the day.

Luckily, the Champions league group wasn’t a nightmare, with 2 teams (Dinamo Kiev and Ferencvaros) cancelling each others out and letting Barcelona and Juventus to battle for the head of the group. Koeman’s team was still assembling, and after a dreadful first leg in Turin, where Juventus seemed unable to compete at the same level as the Spanish team, a stunning 0-3 in Camp Nou would give Pirlo’s squad Porto as opponent in the round of 16, with a view to the quarter finals.

At the end of the winter break, Juventus was just 4 points behind Milan in Serie A ( 2 from Internazionale F.C.), in a position of strenght in Champions League, and already in the Coppa Italia’s final, after eliminating Inter, La Vecchia Signora’s biggest rival and Antonio Conte’s new team.

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Everything seemed to work splendidly, against all odds, and despite all the issues that Pirlo was facing in his first experience as a manager.

But something went wrong. Sometimes Nature gives you exeptional painting abilities, sometimes you born a math genius, and once in a while someone gets incredible athletical skills. It doesn’t mean that you will be a charismatic person. Maybe, your talent will be put to use for the sake of the team you are playing with, but your teammates will go somewhere else to find motivation, a strong fist, and leadership.

Let’s tell the truth: Pirlo has never been a commander in chief. He was never a leader.

When i think at his best years in A.C. Milan, i can easily name 7 players who could outperform him as a leader: Maldini, Nesta, Stam, Seedorf, Ibrahimovic, Gattuso, Inzaghi. Same thing at Juventus as a player: Buffon, Barzagli, Bonucci, Chiellini, Del Piero, Marchisio, Pepe.

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In the perfect setting, with your team still in play everywhere, with the possibility to make something great that only few managers could do in the history of the game, Andrea Pirlo failed to believe in himself as a leader of men, and he probably began to rationalize the possibility that he could somewhere fail, and still be renewed as Juventus manager.

He felt Antonio Conte’s presence, his charisma, and surrended without a fight.

It was naturally almost impossible to win it all but Andrea didn’t realize the fact that, with the Pandemic destroying every possible chance of revenue, the path in the Champions League could in some way ease a dramatic situation and be the door for a second year as a manager.

The two legs against Porto were the mirror of Juventus’s season: an awful first match, with a concentration mistake from Bentancur in the first 3 minutes of the game, followed by nothing but 2 shots on target in 90 minutes, and Federico Chiesa’s goal that gave Juventus the chance to overturn the Portuguese team in the comeback; an incredible second leg where, as the year before with Lyon, La Vecchia Signora would find itself in the position to chase the opponent, after another penalty was given to the visiting team. Chiesa saved the day (again), at least until minute 82, when Ronaldo (guilty absent for 180 minutes) jumped instead of keeping the wall in a 40 meters free kick and, as they say, the rest is history.

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With the shock that came from missing the quarter finals the team dissolved, and Juventus capitulate again, against Benevento and Milan in Turin, and only a miracle in Naples-Verona gave La Vecchia Signora the Champions League pass for the 2021/2022 season.

The main problem with Andrea Pirlo’s handling, in my opinion, is that he never admitted his faults in press conferences. He always spoke about a new system that could take time, some concentration mistakes, and in the end, the referees.

He never put himself in the middle between the players and the medias, protecting them as Antonio Conte would have done, taking responsabilities for his comprehensible mistakes as a young mananger, creating instead some squabbles and malcontents in a primadonnas locker room.

When Juventus finally released him from his duties, he acted surprised, as the winning of Coppa Italia and Supercoppa Italiana could suffice to stay.

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With the new season coming up and him without a job, Pirlo can finally take sometimes to study what went wrong, think about the future and maybe ask himself, “do I really want to be a football manager” or if he prefers ” to get back even a semblance of a private life”.

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