The departure of coach Massimiliano Allegri at the end of the season could signal the end of Juventus’ near-decade of domestic dominance and a man who played a vital role at the start of that success, Andrea Pirlo, turns 40 today.
It was a period that not only launched the Old Lady to unheralded success, though, but also catapulted the midfielder from Italian great into a true icon of the modern era – despite others believing his best years were beyond him.
Born in Flero, Brescia, the youngsters technical abilities were such that he was always heading for the top of the Italian, if not world, game and just two days after his 16th birthday became the youngest player to make a Serie A appearance with La Leonessa.
Ultimately coming of age playing a crucial part as an attacking midfielder when Brescia clinched the 1996/97 Serie B title. Before Inter nearly made a huge dent in the career progression of l’architetto before it had really began.
Languishing in the Serie A shadows for almost a decade, the Nerazzurri had become specialists in signing promising talent or spending big on stellar names. only to completely waste the resources at their disposal.
Despite originally being signed by his former Biancazzurri coach Mircea Lucescu, playing time was limited and Pirlo was cast sent on loan to Reggina and previous club Brescia.
While Carlo Ancelotti is often credited with moving Pirlo into a deep-lying station, it was back in Lombardy under Carlo Mazzone that he performed the role to devastating effect. His assist for Roberto Baggio against Juventus during the later part of the campaign matching the technique of the attackers finish.
Clearly the Nerazzurri hierarchy had not been watching too closely and, on his return to the San Siro that summer, had no trouble deciding he was surplus-to-requirements and sold him to bitter rivals AC Milan.
His debut year proved a challenging one for everyone associated with the Rossoneri, but the Maestro did score the first of a record-breaking number of freekick goals against Parma in March.
The 2002-03 season was far more memorable, though, with Pirlo instrumental as Milan collected the Coppa Italia and Champions League – defeating Juventus in the final. Although a disappointing penalty loss to Boca Juniors ended hopes of a first world title.
After a first Scudetto the following season, came arguably the two most significant moments in the playmakers footballing life, and he himself admitted that the first was the worst moment of his career.
Despite dominating the majority of the 2005 Champions League final, Pirlo has a spot-kick saved as Liverpool clinch the trophy on penalties.
Then comes the pinnacle of any players career, the 2006 World Cup. The final versus France also went to a shootout, but this time l’architetto was successful and also voted the third best player at the tournament.
Just under 18 months later, the Italian was also world champion at club level as well and had also exacted revenge over his former adversaries. Defeating Liverpool in the 2007 Champions League final and Boca Juniors in the World Club Cup
However, until a final Scudetto with Milan in 2010/11, the appreciation of his effortless style appeared limited outside of Italy, until the club made an error even bigger than their cross-town rivals a decade earlier.
At 31 years old and deemed surplus-to-requirements, Pirlo was snapped up by Juventus, and over the next four seasons Il Maestro became the hipsters’ footballer, strolling around the pitch with grace and arrogance, as the Bianconeri first pipped Milan to the Scudetto and secured four in succession.
Whilst ultimately falling at the last hurdle at Euro 2012, the way in which he dominated opponents with majestic creative performances, and a look of disinterest and superiority, cemented his legend. “No Pirlo, No Party” t-shirts becoming the latest must-have fashion accessory.
The way in which he strokes a beautifully taken panenka past Joe Hart even had English jaws dropping with astonishment.
An historic treble with Juventus eluded him as he bowed out of Italian football against Barcelona at the Olympic Stadium, Berlin in 2015, but had carved himself a prominent place in Bianconeri and Italian history.
The way in which he helped transform the Old Lady, prompted teammate Gianluigi Buffon to call him the ‘signing of the century’, for many, he is also the greatest Italian footballer in living memory.