Andrea Pirlo, the revered Italy midfielder with two Champions League titles and a World Cup to his name. Not many footballers have enjoyed the numerous successes of the Juventus midfielder, aged 34 but thriving as ever, a nonchalant maestro in central midfield.
His autobiography, I Think Therefore I Play, published in English by Back Page Press, is one of the best footballers’ memoirs of recent times. This is Pirlo, in his own words.
Despite his cluster of individual and team honours, Pirlo is still haunted by aspects of his career, most prominently the incredible 2005 Champions League final defeat to Liverpool in Istanbul. "When that torture of the game was finished, we sat like a bunch of half-wits in the dressing room - we were bloodthirsty zombies faced with an unforeseen problem – the blood was ours and they'd drunk every last drop" he reflects.
"We couldn't speak. We couldn't move. They'd mentally destroyed us. The damage was already evident even in those early moments, and it only got more stark and serious as the hours went on. Insomnia, rage, depression, a sense of nothingness. We'd invented a new disease with multiple symptoms: Istanbul syndrome."
Pirlo is infamous for his composed, collected personality, illustrated further through his bizarre preparation for the 2006 World Cup final in Berlin, where he took the first penalty in a shootout Italy triumphed in. "I don't feel pressure. I don't give a toss about it. I spent the afternoon of Sunday, July 9, 2006 in Berlin sleeping and playing the PlayStation. In the evening, I went out and won the World Cup."
"Being first on the spot, kicking off that torture in the biggest, most incredible game that a player can play or imagine ... That's not necessarily good news. It means they think you're the best, but it also means that if you miss, you're first on the list of d********."
He then proceeded to elaborate on his penalty in the final against France. "Caressing the ball was something I had to do. I lifted my eyes to the heavens and asked for help because if God exists, there's no way he's French. I took a long, intense breath. That breath was mine, but it could have been the manual worker who struggles to make it to the end of the month, the rich businessmen who is a bit of a shit, the teacher, the student, the Italian expats who never left our side during the tournament, the well-to-do Milanese signora, the hooker on the street corner. In that moment, I was all of them. You won't believe me, but it was right in that very moment I understood what a great thing it is to be Italian. It's a truly priceless privilege", Pirlo explained
He is a proud Italian, a patriot who adorns his country. "Take someone like Antonio Cassano. He says he's slept with 700 women in his time, but he doesn't get picked for Italy any more", he claimed, speaking of his honour to represent Italy." Deep down, can he really be happy? I certainly wouldn't be."
Pirlo will face England in Manaus on 14 June, and after his 'paneka' penalty in the quarter-finals of Euro 2012, he insisted his elegant chip was not intended to show-boat. "I made my decision right at the last second, when I saw Joe Hart, the England goalie, doing all sorts on his line. As I began my run up, I still hadn't decided what I was going to do. And then he moved and my mind was made up."
He adds "It was all impromptu, not premeditated. The only way I could see pushing my chances of scoring close to 100%. There was absolutely no showboating about it - that's not my style."
His majestic individual display in 2012 eliminated Roy Hodgson's side, who he played under for Inter Milan. "Hodgson mispronounced my name. He called me 'Pirla' (d*******), perhaps understanding my true nature more than the other managers."
After his move to AC Milan, working under Carlo Ancelotti, Pirlo reveals that he had agreed to follow Ancelotti to Chelsea in 2009, only for his imminent move to be blocked. "It was August 2009 and I had reached agreement with Chelsea, the club where Ancelotti had just come in as manager. Carlo was like a father and a teacher for me, a kind, friendly man who knew how to make things fun."
The 34 year-old was highly sought-after, admitting meeting Pep Guardiola, Barcelona manager at the time, regarding a move to Catalonia. "I wasn't really bothered about much else in the room besides the person who had summoned me. Guardiola was sitting in an armchair. He began to tell me about Barcelona, saying that it's a world apart, a perfect machine that pretty much invented itself. He wore a white shirt and a pair of dark trousers whose colour matched that of his tie. He was elegant in the extreme, much like his conversation."
Extracts from I Think Therefore I Play
We met in the room used for team meals, halfway between the kitchen and the hall with the hearth where Berlusconi would pound away on the piano and tell various kinds of jokes. Equidistant between the most modest part of the complex and the richest. Between a symbol of humility and one of unabashed power. Between a place where people sweat buckets earning relatively little, and a spot where they earn a fortune sweating just the right amount.
On denying transfer rumours
You're then forced to tell the media a lot of crap; provided, of course, that they manage to ask you the right question. If they enquire whether it's right you'd practically signed for Madrid, you are duty-bound to respond hiding behind well worn clichés and half truths. You read a dull, lifeless script written by press officers with no talent or creative spark. “No, that's not the case. I'm perfectly happy in Milan.” F*** off!
On his PlayStation obsession
After the wheel, the PlayStation is the best invention of all time. And ever since it's existed, I've been Barcelona, apart from a brief spell way back at the start when I'd go Milan.
The head to heads [with room-mate Alessandro Nesta, 'Sandro'] were pure adrenaline. I'd go Barcelona and so would Sandro. Barca v Barca. The first player I'd pick was the quickest one, Samuel Eto'o, but I'd still end up losing a lot of the time. I'd get pissed off and hurl away my controller before asking Sandro for a rematch. And then I'd lose again.
It's not like I could use the excuse that his coach was better than mine: it was Pep Guardiola for him and Pep Guardiola for me. At least in terms of our manager we set out on a level footing. One day we thought about kidnapping him. The flesh and bones, real life version that is. It was August 25, 2010, and we were with Milan at the Nou Camp for the Gamper pre-season tournament. We thought better of our hostage-taking in the end. To avoid constantly falling out, we'd have needed to saw him in two when we got back to Italy, and that wouldn't have been a good idea. How the poor thing would have suffered.
On Rino Gattuso
Rino's word was law at Milan, and anyone new to the club was aware that the first thing they had to do if they made a mistake was explain themselves to him. Just having that knowledge drastically reduced the chances of people f***ing up.
On Marcello Lippi's approach during the 2006 World Cup
It was a real team effort that made us world champions in Germany but, at one point, Lippi had this to say about the group: “You're all s***; you disgust me ... You talk to the journalists too much. You're spies who can't keep a single secret – those guys always know the team in real time. What's that all about? I can't even trust you.”
On the legendary fight at Milanello between Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Oguchi Onyewu
I saw them laying into one another like two bullyboys from the roughest estate. They looked like they were trying to kill each other: there were definitely some broken ribs, despite silence and denials from the king's buglers who said it was just a 'lively confrontation'. Those of us who'd witnessed it were put in mind of a mafia-style settling of the scores.
On Sir Alex Ferguson's decision to use Park Ji Sung to man-mark him, something Pirlo hates
Even Ferguson, the purple-nosed manager who turned Manchester United into a fearsome battleship, couldn't resist the temptation. He's essentially a man without blemish, but he ruined that purity just for a moment when it came to me. A fleeting shabbiness came over the legend that night. On one of the many occasions when our paths crossed during my time at Milan, he unleashed Park Ji Sung to shadow me. The midfielder must have been the first nuclear powered South Korean in history, in the sense that he rushed about the pitch at the speed of an electron.
On the racists who abuse Mario Balotelli
They’re a truly horrendous bunch, a herd of frustrated individuals who’ve taken the worst of history and made it their own ... whenever I see Mario at an Italy training camp, I’ll give him a big smile. It’s my way of letting him know that I’m right behind and that he mustn’t give up. A gesture that means ‘thank you’.