The Last Word: From film star to director, Pirlo is the legend with a living legacy

He is unlikely to match Zanetti for longevity but his look implies virility

Well, they do call it the beautiful game. There are exceptions, obviously: Maradona, for instance, an incubus conjured from the jungle night by the final delirium of some fevered Victorian explorer. But it can hardly be a coincidence that so many football icons should happen to command as much aesthetic satisfaction with their cheekbones as their feet.

Those of us captivated by the paragons of Serie A, in particular, should man up and acknowledge the latent eroticism in our veneration. For which Renaissance painter ever had a model for the Passion of Christ to compare with Batistuta? Or a St John like Maldini? Would Baggio have had quite the same hold on our imagination, had he looked like Paul Scholes?

Of course, ignorance can compound our bliss. The physically aristocratic Totti, for instance, is lampooned in Italy as the equivalent of a Cockney bimbo. In the case of Andrea Pirlo, however, an insouciant football genius simply cannot fail to be gratifyingly consistent with his broader nature. After all, here is a man who entitled his autobiography Penso Quindi Gioco, I Think Therefore I Play. Not least since growing that beard, however, he does not so much resemble the subject of an oil painting as the maestro on the other side of the canvas.

Pirlo has now entered that bittersweet portal to nostalgia where the undiminished, vernal fertility of his invention contains poignant undertones of autumn. We admire him in some binocular refraction: one eye in the present, the other from the future. As such, there was a nearly ceremonial quality to the way he gilded his 100th cap last weekend – in the suitably halcyon setting of the Maracana stadium – with a free-kick from 25 yards against Mexico. A year after that orgiastic penalty against England, the air of the football summer is again saturated with a heady, perennial bloom.

But Pirlo is 34 now, and has already said that he will wear azzurro for the final time when returning to Brazil next year. The demands of tournament football have already enabled a dynamic Japan midfield, since the Mexico game, to make him look rather more sedentary than sedate – and a muscle strain means coach Cesare Prandelli must do without him against Brazil tomorrow.

So while time can stand still when Pirlo is on the ball, at least against opposition as obtuse as England in Kiev, there is an increasingly precious, valedictory quality to his present pomp. He incarnates that apparent oxymoron, the living legend: every game, every pass, a living legacy.

For his bequest, as one of Italy’s greatest midfielders, is to all football. As coaches absorb the contrasting lessons of Barcelona and Bayern, Pirlo has made an enduring stand for the regista – the deep-lying playmaker, his elegance typically preserved by some fierce bodyguard in the ilk of Gennaro Gattuso or Daniele De Rossi.

Pirlo actually started out up the field, as trequartista. It was Carletto Mazzone who converted him to regista, in order to accommodate Roberto Baggio at No 10 for Brescia. Pirlo’s career has duly been book-ended by renascence, written off as he was at Milan before his arrival at Juventus a couple of years ago.

He came as a free agent, much like Paul Pogba since and now Fernando Llorente. Just think what Juventus might do, if only they could get Joe Kinnear on the case. As it is, Pirlo has now added third and fourth Scudetti to a CV already containing two wins in the Champions League and one in the World Cup – named man of the match in both final and semi-final in 2006. Italy have lost only 16 of the 101 games Pirlo has played, and their most mortifying failures of recent years have almost invariably coincided with his absence through injury.

Serie A’s cerebral tempo has allowed some in its pantheon to obtain a literally timeless quality. Javier Zanetti, last seen rupturing an Achilles tendon in his 847th game for Inter, has just signed a one-year contract extension to take him past his 40th birthday – something not even Paolo Maldini managed. Zanetti prohibits even his wife from touching his hair, has yet to produce a single grey strand, and professes a pathological terror of going bald.

But if Pirlo is unlikely to match Zanetti for longevity, at least the hirsute look he has adopted for the evening of his career implies due virility. It gives L’Architetto a flexibly Bacchic aspect, in fact, one that might equally befit a professor or a goatherd. And if he is not quite so much a film star as some of the rest, he would make one hell of a director.

Life and Style
love + sex A new study has revealed the average size - but does that leave men outside the 'normal' range being thought of as 'abnormal'?
Arts and Entertainment
The Palace of Westminster is falling down, according to John Bercow
voices..says Matthew Norman
Steve Bruce and Gus Poyet clash
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Graham Norton said Irish broadcaster RTE’s decision to settle was ‘moronic’
Arts and Entertainment
Jake and Dinos Chapman were motivated by revenge to make 'Bring me the Head of Franco Toselli! '
arts + ents Shapero Modern Gallery to show explicit Chapman Brothers film
Arts and Entertainment
Kurt Cobain performing for 'MTV Unplugged' in New York, shortly before his death
music Brett Morgen's 'Cobain: Montage of Heck' debunks many of the myths
Life and Style
Brendan Rodgers
football The Liverpool manager will be the first option after Pep Guardiola
Amazon misled consumers about subscription fees, the ASA has ruled
Arts and Entertainment
Myanna Buring, Julian Rhind-Tutt and Russell Tovey in 'Banished'
TV Jimmy McGovern tackles 18th-century crime and punishment
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Whitehouse as Herbert
arts + ents
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn