Very few players in the modern game can be universally loved at all, let alone for a whole season. Even fewer players can stay at the top of their game for a decade, winning multiple trophies and changing the style of play for those teams. Andrea Pirlo did it, and he did it with class, style and most importantly, he did it with success. These past few days has seen social media flooded with tributes and love letters to the great midfielder from players, teammates, ex teammates, fans and even clubs (some he didn’t even play for) but all this does is further the fact that Pirlo is loved by the majority in the beautiful game.
The legendary World Cup winner finally called an end to his illustrious career this past week as he came on as a 90th minute substitute for New York City FC as they crashed out of the MLS Playoffs against Columbus Crew 4-3 on aggregate but for those last few minutes, the NYCFC crowd gave Pirlo a loud send off and gave him a round of applause at the full time whistle for his two years of service with the side.
Joining on a free transfer from Italian giants Juventus in the summer of 2015, Pirlo joined David Villa and Frank Lampard as NYCFC’s first three Designated Players, adding a lot of buzz to the start of the new season and giving the new franchise some much needed attention on the field. Pirlo had just come off the back of a fantastic season with the Bianconeri, winning the Serie A and Coppa Italia double and reaching the Champions League final, losing out to Barcelona. His time at Juve had come to an end but his next job was to help bring Italian eyes to MLS.
In a time where MLS planned on moving away from signing older stars for the novelty, Andrea Pirlo was part of the last era of this scheme. His move wasn’t just about a star coming to the league, it was to build the identity of a club in a city where 2.7M Italian Americans live, most of whom will have been familiar with Pirlo.
Outlets picked up on the move, like the New York Post and The New York Times, and NYCFC got what they wanted; attention. Not only were they getting a classy player, but they were getting a bonafide footballing star across Europe.
We all know that during his time in the Big Apple, Pirlo wasn’t the same type of player he was at Milan or Juve, but that’s to be expected when you’re getting on in years. His desired impact on the pitch may not have lived up to expectations, but he made people aware of NYCFC in a market that may otherwise have been untapped or exploited by another franchise.
Yankee Stadium has seen it’s fair share of Baseball icons retire such as Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Derek Jeter but now it has another sporting icon who can claim to have left his game in the House That Ruth Built; Andrea Pirlo. Grazie Pirlo.