Andrea Pirlo has lived some dramatic nights in the European Cup. Istanbul 2005, for instance, when as an AC Milan player he went into half-time 3-0 ahead but ended the final against Liverpool collecting a silver medal. Pirlo was also in Galicia for Milan when a 4-1 first leg lead was reversed by Deportivo 4, Milan 0.
Far more often, as a player, he was on the winning side, and it was that body of experience, peppered with trophies, that persuaded Juventus to accelerate Pirlo’s management career last summer.
His first season as a manager has now featured a genuine Champions League epic: If there is a more gripping, eventful match than the show put on by Porto and Pirlo's Juventus in Turin on Tuesday, which finished with Porto progressing on away goals, then it will be a blessed year for the European Cup.
For Pirlo, though, the reviews are brutal. "A bitter night for flawed Pirlo," read yesterday's Corriere dello Sport. Juventus have been eliminated at the first knockout stage – again – of a competition they have designed their strategy around.
It was a bad night for Cristiano Ronaldo, signed in 2018 to give impulse to Juve’s Champions League ambitions. He finds himself painted as a villain of the piece, for an unforced mistake that led directly to his third successive exit before the semi-finals as Juve’s main star.
If Ronaldo is to win the European Cup again, as he did five times in his time at Madrid and Manchester United, it now will be as a 37-year-old, or older.
Ronaldo has another season left on his lucrative contract. Pirlo likewise, although the manager knows his employers well enough to recognise that failure in Europe can draw a very sudden stop to a managerial commitment.
Juventus waved off Max Allegri as coach, impatient that he had overseen two losing Champions League finals in his five years in charge. Last summer, Maurizio Sarri was sacked immediately after Juve lost on away goals to Lyon in the last 16.
After the elimination by Porto, extra-time having left the aggregate score of a pulsating tie at 4-4, Pirlo faced questions on whether or not judgment on him would be made with the same criteria as it had been on Sarri. “I am not concerned,” he said, “I was brought in for a project that will develop over several seasons.”
The first season of ‘Project Pirlo’ – which began with a bold act of faith, promoting a hugely admired former player to the hot seat based on no previous senior coaching experience – is likely to end even more discouragingly than any of Allegri’s five, or Sarri’s sole campaign.
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The Serie A title, which Juventus have won for each of the last nine seasons, is slipping out of range, the gap between Juventus and leaders Inter Milan at 10 points.
Porto were resilient, tactically disciplined and, after a second yellow card was shown to Mehdi Taremi, down to 10 men for more than half the 120 minutes in Turin.
Once Federico Chiesa had scored his second and third goals of the tie to put Juve 2-1 ahead on the night – for 3-3 overall – Pirlo surveyed a situation of maximum advantage. Juve were numerically superior, had most of the second half left to play, at home and they had Ronaldo, the greatest ever Champions goalscorer, on the pitch,
Porto defended heroically, the veteran Pepe outstanding, goalkeeper Agustin Marchesin agile and courageous, but they could also predict accurately where the Juventus threat would come from.
Juan Cuadrado’s crosses, right to left, are a weapon that under Pirlo has been superbly sharpened; at times, it looked too much like the only Juve weapon.
Ronaldo, ineffective up front, reached an unhappy landmark, a first knockout stage in the Champions League for 16 years in which he has not contributed a goal.
His painful souvenir from Tuesday, though, will be of the leap he made in Juve’s defensive wall, turning his back to Sergio Oliveira’s direct free-kick in the 115th minute. Sergio snaked his effort under the wall, and it squirmed through Wojciech Szczesny to regain Porto the lead in the tie, and with their extra away goal, the advantage.
“No excuse – it’s an unforgivable error,” according to Fabio Capello, the former Juventus manager, working as a pundit for the match. “For Ronaldo to jump and turn around in the wall, it’s the worst. You can’t be afraid of the ball.”