As Old Lady takes risk with Pirlo

As Juventus’ appointment of Andrea Pirlo starts to sink in, what are the risks and rewards of backing a great player to become a great coach?

Just when we thought 2020 couldn’t get any weirder, Juventus exceeded all our expectations.

Maurizio Sarri was sacked in the morning after an unconvincing Scudetto defence and elimination from the Champions League at the hands of Olympique Lyonnais. Then, in the evening, amidst all the speculation of who could possibly replace Sarri, Andrea Pirlo signed a two-year contract to succeed him, barely a week on from being named coach of the Bianconeri’s Under-23 team in his first managerial role.

Make no mistake about it, this may be the riskiest appointment Juve have ever made. Bringing in Sarri last summer was brave enough as it signalled the Old Lady’s intent to scrap the formula that delivered them a succession of Serie A titles, in favour of a more ‘modern’ approach. However, the marriage was doomed from the start. The Bianconeri failed to provide him with players suitable for his system, which didn’t mesh well with the coach’s insistence on playing his way.

Thus, the decision to dismiss the former Napoli and Chelsea boss was made before any more rot could set in.

All roads seemed to lead to Mauricio Pochettino, ready-made for Juve on paper, but that would’ve been too much of a sideways step. Instead, they are putting it all on the line, entrusting Pirlo with taking them where his predecessor couldn’t. Whereas sporting director Fabio Paratici poorly tried to pass off Sarri as his ‘first choice’, he had no shortage of superlatives to describe the 41-year-old.

“The decision for Pirlo was very natural, in the Juventus style, because he is someone who as we said just over a week ago played with us, has always been in contact with everyone here and it felt natural,” explained Paratici. “We also believe he is destined for greatness. He was as a player and we think with confidence he can do the same as a coach.

“Andrea has in his mind the same approach to coaching as he does when he played. That’s football of great quality and hard work. He wants to propose a certain type of football, the kind European teams are generally trying to follow, and he was very convincing in his explanation to us.”

The most intriguing aspect of Pirlo’s appointment concerns his complete lack of experience. He becomes the latest legendary figure to manage the team they enjoyed so much success with as a player, following in the footsteps of Zinedine Zidane at Real Madrid, Pep Guardiola at Barcelona, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at Manchester United and Frank Lampard at Chelsea. Yet the former Milan midfielder only received his UEFA Pro Licence earlier in the summer and therefore, unlike them, hasn’t served any sort of apprenticeship.

Pirlo worked as a pundit for Sky Sport Italia while taking his coaching badges and prophesised Juve’s problems after Ajax knocked them out of the Champions League two seasons ago, declaring they lacked quality in midfield and that they ‘didn’t know how to get the ball’ to Cristiano Ronaldo.