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.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor