Although easily winning in the category of “Least Suspenseful Soccer Declaration in 2017,” an Italian legend has made public his intentions. New York City FC midfielder, Andrea Pirlo, will retire at the conclusion of the Major League Soccer season.
“You realize yourself that the time has come,” said Pirlo in an interview with Gazzetta dello Sport. “Each day, you have physical problems and you can’t train as you would like to because there’s always some niggle. At my age, it’s fine to say enough is enough. You don’t have to carry on until you are 50. I’ll do something else.”
Pirlo’s partner, Valentina Baldini, was the first to disclose that the two-time Champions League winner would step down on her blog post in August.
“In December we will return to our beautiful Italy … I think I owe a lot to New York, it was the most beautiful experience of my life. Here I met fantastic people I will stay bound to forever and then … among these skyscrapers I have achieved my greatest and most important dream, BECOMING A MOTHER.”
This was also the first public announcement that Pirlo and Baldini had twins in July – perhaps two future virtuosos, Leanardo and Tomasso.
The six-time Serie A champion with A.C. Milan and Juventus, Pirlo was signed on a free transfer by New York City FC on July 6, 2015. With a Yankee Stadium crowd of over 32,000 chanting “We want Pirlo!” the World Cup winner debuted as a reserve in the 53rd minute on July 26 with the score level at two against fellow expansion side, Orlando City. Pirlo proved worthy of his maestro moniker and orchestrated a 5-3 victory. With DP’s Pirlo, David Villa and Kaka (Orlando City) all on the field that day, it marked the first time three World Cup winners played simultaneously in an MLS match.
For Pirlo, it was the beginning of a bipolar career in NYCFC blue. Regarded as one of the superior free-kick specialists in the world (he scored the most dead-ball goals in Serie A history with 15 of his 19 tallies for Juve from set pieces), Pirlo has managed just one finish in 32 direct set-piece attempts.
On a positive note, he started 32 matches and led the squad with 11 assists in 2016 under first year coach Patrick Vieira. In the midst of the NYCFC playoff run, Pirlo was scorned when he told Reuters that MLS is a very difficult league to play in. “There’s a lot of running,” he said. This further illuminated the perception that Pirlo refused to work hard on both sides of the ball. Lost in the translation of Pirlo’s remarks was his desire to see American soccer become more tactical.
“What I’m talking about is actually a system or culture,” he said. “I don’t mean that the level of technical skills are low. I just mean there is a cultural void that needs to be filled.”
In 2017 Pirlo’s numbers have suffered. After starting the first seven matches of the season, Pirlo has appeared in but eight of the last 25 games with just one assist – plus a surreal moment when he hid in the defensive wall behind teammate Frederic Brillant on Sebastian Giovinco’s set piece goal in a 4-0 road loss to Toronto FC.
After acquiring 19-year old Venezuelan Yangel Herrera on loan from Manchester City, the NYCFC staff was preparing for the moment to ease Pirlo out of the starting XI and into the unaccustomed role of observer. In MLS week eight, Herrera was unveiled. He scored the equalizer and assisted on the game-winner in a come from behind victory at Columbus.
“How do you want a player who won the Champions League, won the World Cup. won all the trophies to understand that he is not going to play on the weekend,” said Vieira. “It’s difficult because he has never been in that situation before. I accept that he is not happy at all. This is normal. It’s a situation I have to manage as a coach. The best way I can handle it is to be honest and open with him.”
While Pirlo was unsettled by his neoteric role, Vieira admired the reaction of the man also known as “The Architect” in his homeland.
“The way that he takes it and the way he conducts himself at training, he’s been a fantastic example for the players,” said Vieira, whose French side lost to Pirlo’s Azzurri in the 2006 World Cup final. “He is a really good role model who accepts the decision of the coach. For me, he’s made it easier because of who he is as a person and the way he has taken things.”
Pirlo’s MLS contract expires in December. Earlier this year, reports out of Europe indicated Pirlo’s next phase would be assisting manager Antonio Conte at Chelsea.
“Am I thinking of coaching? Just because you were a good player doesn’t automatically mean you can do it,” Pirlo told Gazzetta dello Sport. “You need to be willing to do it and prove yourself in the field. That spark within you needs to ignite, and it’s not ignited within me yet. After 25 years of football, I’m going to stay at home with my family. I’ll keep myself in form playing golf and tennis.”