Peerless Pirlo will take his final bow. After Brazil 2014, Andrea Pirlo will no longer don the azzurri blue of Italia.
It means that even though he has already shone in those colours, he must do so again to produce a final performance. The man who owns a vineyard must feel like a conductor of an opera at its end. It must finish with a flourish.
Pirlo is however the game’s most current graceful regista. In Italian, the word regista means director, and if his football career were a movie, it would seem like that of a Christopher Nolan film with twists and turns and mental puzzles yet to be solved but then already solved in a quagmire of illusionary forms.
That is how Pirlo plays the game. Slow, but quick, his passes short, but long. There is a dichotomy between his attacking penetrative play and his defensive positioning. He is a most absolute midfielder.
Indeed, that is what La Nazionale will require at the World Cup. For a team seemingly weak, a team struggling to boast any genuinely talented football stars and one suffering from a league that is creeping into the basements of European football, Pirlo will be required to weave the tapestry.
To do this, he will need the strategies of Cesare Prandelli. The manager of the Italian national team has done much in breaking those old stereotypes of cynicism, gamesmanship and defensive attitude that had for long been borne upon Italian football’s shoulders. His tenure has brought about a change to more technical football, and the national team has become more likeable.
However, the World Cup seems to have come at a wrong time. Pirlo’s age may come into question considering the heat conditions of Brazil, and whether he will be able to perform at his peak remains to be seen. Similarly, a slow league has brought about a slow team, the physical levels not at the same height as that of some of Europe’s best.
And yet still, Italy has always managed to find a way of playing out tournament football. Indeed, even that 2006 World Cup win was a surprise — that run to the Euro 2012 final an even more pleasant one for its fans. It seems as if digging deep is never a problem.
As for Prandelli’s choices, the guesses could be as many as the probabilities. The Italian manager has tinkered around with formations, tried out different ones at different times, always coming up with a staple one but then re-adapting it for certain games and certain moments.
For now, though, he seems to be settled with the 4-3-2-1. In this, a back four may consist of the Milan duo of Ignazio Abate and Mattia De Sciglio down the flanks, with a Juventus center back pairing of Andrea Barzagli and Giorgio Chiellini protecting Gianluigi Buffon’s goal.
In front of them, Daniele De Rossi and Pirlo should occupy two of the three spots, with either of PSG’s midfielders, Marco Verrati or Thiago Motta occupying the final one. The two players behind lone striker Mario Balotelli should be Claudio Marchisio and Antonio Candreva.
Prandelli though does have a tendency to tinker, and thus Antonio Cassano could play if the need for a trequartista arises. Similarly, he has the pace and trickery of Lorenzo Insigne to call upon while the poor form of Balotelli could see Ciro Immobile called up to deputise as the Dortmund bound striker was Serie A’s leading scorer in the just concluded season.
The squad does however lack the guile of Riccardo Montolivo, and Abate’s fitness issues could see inexperienced Marco Darmian play at right full back. Alternatively, Prandelli could go with a three man defence, wherein he could include the Juve trio of Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci and Chiellini.
For a man who has already used a myriad of formations before, predicting Prandelli’s starting line-up is akin to a guessing game. From 4-3-3, to 4-3-1-2, to 3-5-2, back to 4-3-1-2, 4-3-2-1 and even at times 3-4-2-1, Prandelli is a manager who almost always seems to be in a perpetual game of tactical chess.
In that game however, he will hope that his most priceless piece in Pirlo will provide the checkmates.