Andrea Pirlo graced the UEFA Champions League for over a decade as a player, winning the title twice and leaving even the most ardent fans of route one football quietly purring.
This season the 41-year-old is back as a coach, leading a Juventus team featuring several former team-mates. Ahead of Tuesday’s Group G opener against a Dynamo Kyiv side led by Mircea Lucescu, the man who gave Pirlo his senior debut aged 16, UEFA.com’s Paolo Menicucci gauged his thoughts.
How is coaching the likes of Gianluigi Buffon, Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci, players alongside whom you competed in so many battles on the pitch?
It’s great! They’ve been really accommodating. Maybe it wasn’t easy for them in the beginning, but in the space of a few hours they understood that my role was different to a few days earlier. Their attitude changed quickly and easily. They called me ‘gaffer’ straight off, perhaps initially with a smile, but then they got used to it.
They can be a lot of help to me because they know what it means to play for Juve. They know what it means to win. And they know what it’s like working with me, as they did all those years we played together. They know the spirit I want to bring to this team so they’ll be a great help this season.
As a player, you were renowned for your calmness on the ball. Can we expect the same approach in the dugout?
It’s definitely more stressful in the dugout. On the pitch I decided what I did with the ball; from the dugout I can manage, but others interpret their roles so it’s a bit tougher as a coach. When I was playing, I had a certain style which meant I could be involved and decisive on the pitch. Now I have to do that from the touchline.
You have been compared to [Pep] Guardiola because of the position you both played and being fast-tracked to coaching a massive club. Do you see him as a role model?
Guardiola’s an example to us all. He’s one of the best. He’s given young coaches wanting to promote a certain type of attacking football an example to follow. We all have our own ideas, and we need to take them forward, but he’s definitely a role model for the whole footballing movement. I like his style of play: to always be on the attack and direct the game, to always be able to handle situations. That’s what our aim should be in the future.
Which of your coaches inspired you the most?
I had the luck of working with some great coaches. From Lucescu, who was one of my first, at Brescia – he was a maestro – to [Marcello] Lippi, [Carlo] Ancelotti, [Antonio] Conte and [Massimiliano] Allegri. I had the luck of working with some of the top coaches in the world, and I’m happy I had the chance to work with them. I’ll try to take something from each of them.
You played against Cristiano Ronaldo many times as a player, and beat him 3-0 in a famous match with AC Milan, perhaps one of your best performances. Did you ever think you would coach him?
No, I never imagined it, but I’m happy to have this icon of world football, to have him at my disposal, see him train, see him play. It’s an enormous pleasure for me, for the whole team. He works the same now at 35 as he did as a young lad, with the same passion to play football every day. He’s an example to us all.
How special is the Champions League for you?
The Champions League is a dream for everybody who plays football, it creates a strong emotion from the moment you hear the music. I had the good fortune to play in four finals and win two of them so I know what it means to win and lose this title. You don’t have to lose it, you just have to win it; losing hurts, winning is absolutely fantastic.
How far can Juve go this year?
The Champions League is very tough. It’s dependent on small moments. The most difficult period is around March when some teams maybe haven’t got back into the swing of things [after the winter break], while others are already in good form. You need a bit of luck sometimes, maybe a more favourable draw.