Italian Football Book Review: I think therefore I play by Andrea Pirlo with Alessandro Alciato
– Jonathan Swift
I have long been an admirer of Andrea Pirlo, his eminence of grace in his style of play epitomises what it is that encapsulates my vision of his sport as an art form, all without words. Such is this captivation, that I genuinely struggle to convey to others, who do not follow football, why it is that this sight, when beheld, has a dawning akin to the realisation of a higher conception of thinking. It parallels only with a moment of insight, where the mind has reached a profound point without thinking in words, purely by the turning of the mind’s eye in the Cartesian sense.
I am unsure if BackPagePress realise the service which they have done for human civilization, in publishing an English edition of this book. This deed will surely stand beside Boethius’ commendable deed of bringing Aristotle to medieval Europe. It was a year and two days ago that the first publication in Italy was on the shelves, and that it has ever been published in English at any point in time what so ever, is a triumph. Uncertain as I was of an English publication of the book, I began to feel remorse that I had not dedicated myself to learning Italian since the very first airing of Football Italia on Channel 4, in order that, when the time came, I could read Pirlo’s book straight away in 2013.
Despite the book having nothing of the magnitude, which Guillem Balague’s works on Pep Guardiola and Lionel Messi will have sway with, to pull readers into close orbit, I expect a great many reruns from the printer. My local Waterstones whole stock of five copies were all spoken for by the time I collected my copy at 3pm on day of publishing, with more orders to be delivered.
Pirlo’s success in his work is handsomely reflected in his Champion’s League successes with AC Milan and World Cup victory with Italy, but his truest accolades are in winning over the hearts and minds of those who appreciate his art form, resultant in the almost cult reverence of his being. In his manner, for those of my native vernacular, Pirlo is truly an extension of gallus. There are no statistics which equate to the brilliance of his vision and beauty of his performance, thus making him transcendent of the modern perspective of football’s facticity. To quote a brilliant appraisal, “Pirlo really is the last unicorn.”
I can say no more of the man, for one can only realise the true genius of Pirlo in seeing, and now in reading. There is nothing more exciting than the opportunity to open up the senses, in the moment when a prolific artist pulls up a pew to say, “This is what I think…”
As much I should hope to beckon the lay person to indulge, for the sakes of the literary joys, it cannot be helped but to praise how succinctly the writing in this book heralds a complete reflection of Pirlo’s footballing talent. Where I would at once struggle to put into words his on-field genius, it is only through the common understanding of language that his genius can be explained: only the brilliance of the writing itself can truly explain the wonder of his game, metaphor explaining metaphor.
From the outset our writer makes effortless strokes in conveying a vista, turns of phrase all as pleasing as his movements to make space on the field. It is not merely that the space is made, however, but the succinct depictions of the internal and external energies at work in the scene, as they are so eloquently articulated, “My thoughts were all over the place, drunken ideas at the wheel of fairground dodgems.”
While the aesthetic of his penmanship is much to be admired, his deeper sense of thinking cannot help one but to marvel at his operating so gracefully between the lines. His well-mannered nature is ever at play in his sense of reticence, where he says no bad word where it would be impolite, but instead playing his game between the lines so often seen to disenchant a defence.
Pirlo’s sense of awareness is such that he is able to artfully say nothing on a matter, for knowing how the on-going play will eventually take shape, with his absence of input itself an influencing factor upon the outcome. It is with this marvellous grace of execution that he reveals his sentiments for one of his former employers, “The Pen Guy was sitting beside him, staring intently at me in the hope of spying a positive reaction.”
Nonetheless, our writer is forth coming with the facts of his possible exits and reasons for remaining at A.C. Milan, taking no hostages while unfolding the stories. All the while he is frank, he composes an atmosphere in which the reader feels themselves taking in the air of the moments he illustrates.
In moral code, his is one to be admired. From his earliest contests of betrayal and jealousy, which matured him into the responsibility of embracing his talents, to the sombre reflections of societal injustices which makes guilty of the innocent, there comes forth a compassionate thinker.
At times, the reader will find themselves seamlessly lead along a lucid avenue of reflection, as all the emotions evoked from the events of the narrative are vividly depicted with poetic finesse. Pirlo does this as a story teller, a being of humility and a teacher. Reflecting on the loss to Liverpool in the Champion’s League final in 2005, he vividly compounds his feeling of failure with, “I could hardly sleep and even when I did drop off, I awoke to a grim thought: I’m disgusting.” In balance of such morbidity, he gives us, “There are always lessons to be found in the darkest moments. It’s a moral obligation to dig deep and find that little glimmer of hope or pearl of wisdom.”
Where figures in football appear in narrative, figures which any lover of the game would be passionate to learn of their character, they are not presented as the sum of the writer’s opinion. Where Pirlo presents other characters, he uses poignant stories and anecdotes to bring them to life, such that you shall find a more succinct perspective which exemplifies their living nature, than a captured image of them by which one can only surmise.
Beyond the fantastic displays of penmanship through out the earlier passages of the book, comes Pirlo’s core of critical thinking. In such, is his laying out of what he feels will bring football and the people of his country forward as a culture. It is in these sincere moments that Pirlo bears all of the fire in his heart, condemning those who not only sully, but smite the dignity of that which he loves most, from racists, to cheats, to the most vulgar of wealthy club owners.
On the subject of replay technology in football, he offers that there is to be found a peace of heart, while simultaneously delivering another defence splitting pass, “It would also help those individuals who still obsess over the Sulley Muntari ‘goal’…Perhaps they could finally let it go and delete the photos from their phones.” Pirlo further reinforces this sentiment with his empathetic feelings for referees having to operate in what he considers an archaic system.
Through out the book it is clear – Andrea Pirlo is a genius. This being only half of the merit however, as the other half is in his strength to straddle the pressures which come with his position and responsibility. Neither is this to say that he has not been an individual free from torment, of the mental contentions of his talents. In his iterations of his feelings there is clearly that torment of genius which presides over all the contemplations of success and failure in a talented person.
It is also striking how frustrating it is for Pirlo, as a visionary, how wrong the world is when he sees how right it could be with such little effort. Where such little effort is required on his part to bring his vision to life on the pitch – and now with the pen – it is an understandable frustration for him to have to bear witness, to that which he knows could be changed for the better so easily.
Despite the wonderful flair displayed through out the text, it is as easily accessible to any body who might engage with it. Just as on the pitch, Pirlo makes the most of the empty space by his talented nature, without having to show off. Each chapter is well paced, and through out, the footnotes are to be found at the end of each, making for easy reference.
For those who cannot suffice it enough to have insight into his mind, you can purchase a bottle of his family wine, of which the grapes themselves may have been crushed by the man’s own feet.
While having distanced himself from the role of coaching, in favour of a more private life, it is clear that Pirlo would be best left to his own devices in order to philosophise, for his talents clearly transcend his profession. So much so that to brand him a footballer would be to pigeon hole his potential. If anything is clear beyond the man’s genius, it is that he is most certainly belonging of holding a pen.
So in having metamorphosed so many figures and scenes into imaginative abstraction, it is only just that the man himself be passed into figurative language. Of which I beg the question – which is more beautiful, Bar Refaeli or the pass that Pirlo makes at her?