Andrea Pirlo might be new to the job but has already put his stamp on Juventus
Victory over Sampdoria on manager's coaching debut deemed a ‘revolution’
All in all, the Pirlo premiere could hardly have gone much better. The least experienced manager in Serie A began his senior managerial career with a 3-0 win, his Juventus at times overwhelming the Sampdoria guided by the Italian top flight's most worldly coach, Claudio Ranieri.
Ranieri is not only a veteran, but a gentlemen, too, and he generously applied his encyclopedic knowledge of the game to highlight how Andrea Pirlo, freshman manager, has already put his stamp on Juve. “I’ve just seen a hungry Juventus, players fighting for every ball,” remarked Ranieri.
Did he see distinctions from last season’s Juve, champions under Maurizio Sarri, who was promptly sacked after just one year in charge? “This team try to stretch you, using the wide players,” noted Ranieri, “With Sarri the movement was more through the middle, direct. Anyway, we lost to both [versions].”
Indeed, only 26 days ago, Juventus had beaten Sampdoria to clinch their ninth scudetto on the trot. Back then Sarri’s Juve, criticised for being sluggish, won 2-0. Pirlo’s revamped, slicker Juve went one goal better, thanks to Cristiano Ronaldo getting his 19th season as a senior professional off to a goalscoring start with two minutes left.
Pirlo, 41, can look like he is everything Sarri is not, which was part of Juve’s motivation for appointing an untried coach with a dazzling playing past and a stylish, urbane demeanour.
Sarri, famously, worked his way up the career ladder, with no significant playing background, initially combining part-time coaching jobs with work in a bank. Sarri also had his eccentricities, looked more comfortable in tracksuit than a shirt and tie. And, apart from during his brilliant spell in charge of a dynamic Napoli, evidently struggled to maintain the faith of demanding bosses at ambitious superclubs.
Chelsea last year dismissed Sarri after one season in which he had led them to victory in the Europa League.
Just as Chelsea replaced Sarri with a young former club idol, Frank Lampard, so did Juventus. But the elevation of Pirlo from working in the youth sections of Juve to being the main man is far more radical. Lampard had a year’s managing in the Championship on his CV; Pirlo has been a head coach for six weeks.
The argument against his being a whimsical risk of an appointment is that, in reality, Pirlo has been thinking like a coach much of his life.
He was a masterly central midfielder with AC Milan, Juventus and Italy, and so tactically astute that, rather like Pep Guardiola, former pass-master of Barcelona midfields, it was assumed he would take his cerebral outlook naturally into management. Or, at least, that was the assumption of others. As a player, Pirlo was not actually attracted to coaching as a future career.
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He changed his mind after retiring. He has a natural aura of command. Several current Juve players knew him as a team-mate. Leo Bonucci, who scored Juventus’ second goal against Sampdoria, emphatically endorsed the new manager as a step up from the former one.
“The main difference is how we are trying to take the initiative,” said Bonucci. “For us defenders, under Sarri we moved far more as a unit. With Pirlo, it is more one-against-one, with more freedom. In midfield, I see more quality in possession. From what I have seen in the last few weeks and in our first match, I think it’s an improvement.”
A few Italian newspapers headlined Pirlo’s coaching debut as a ‘revolution’. His chosen XI had some fresh faces, and a trio of young players impressed.
Dejan Kulusevski, the Swedish winger signed from Atalanta before the new manager was appointed, scored within 13 minutes of starting his first Juve match, his finish wonderfully composed for a 20-year-old.
Winston McKennie, the US midfielder on loan from Schalke with a view to possible permanent move, was confident and energetic in midfield. The radical Pirlo selection was of Gianluca Fabrotta, who spent last season mostly with the club’s under-23s, at left wing-back. He justified being picked above more experienced candidates for the role.
With Paulo Dybala to come back from injury and Edin Dzeko on the verge of signing from Roma, Pirlo will soon have more options up front.
Deeper into the season, that means he can gently suggest that Ronaldo, who turns 36 in February, paces himself, takes the odd rest from his acquisitive desire to accumulate more and more records, more and more goals.
“We’ve talked about that,” said Pirlo of the Juve superstar. “Of course he’s not tiring yet but we will try to give him some breaks. He’s intelligent, he knows his body, so he’ll know when it’s time to rest up."
And if to establish his principles, he added: "It’s always important to have dialogue between players and manager.”
Updated: September 22, 2020 11:56 AM