So far this summer, Juventus has spent money all over the pitch, already adding ten players to their books as of this writing. But despite spending somewhere in the range of 70 million euros on new transfer fees and making permanent loan deals from last season, the biggest buzz the Turin giants created this offseason comes from a free signing.
Before this transfer window even opened officially, Juventus snapped up Italian legend Andrea Pirlo, signing the midfielder to a three year contract. The deal created quite a stir on the peninsula, and not necessarily a positive one. Most pundits wondered why a team who sputtered at the end of last season would turn to a 32-year old player who struggled for fitness last year to help turn their fortunes around. But Pirlo’s performance in Italy’s victory over Spain yesterday may have those pundits questioning themselves and Juve supporters salivating.
No one denies what Pirlo is capable of doing, based on his storied history for both club and country. But there is no reason not to question the durability of a veteran who has been playing in Serie A for well over a decade and was only able to take the field for a dozen league matches last season. But if Pirlo can return to form, he can be the most important acquisition of the summer for the Bianconeri.
During Wednesday’s victory over Spain, Pirlo put in an impressive performance for the Azzurri that brought to mind his glory days. When he shows that kind of form, Pirlo is the very definition of a deep-lying playmaker, anchoring the midfield and spraying the ball into dangerous positions. If he can play like that for Juventus, he can be the most important signing in the club’s quest to return to European competition. But that is a big if.
The on-field value of Pirlo this season rests squarely in the hands of new coach Antonio Conte, and perhaps he can look to Sir Alex Ferguson for some inspiration with this conundrum. Over the last couple of seasons, Ferguson managed to get the most out of aging players like Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs by deploying and resting them in a manner that kept his veterans fresh and effective for the games he needed them to play. Conte must do the same with Pirlo.
Juve has indeed added some quality this summer, and I expect them to be a much improved team. They needed to plug holes in many areas on the pitch and have done that to varying degrees of success. But what they also lacked last season was a player with the experience of winning to lead the team during the high pressure moments of Serie A season. Gigi Buffon has that experience, but there is only so much influence a goalkeeper can have on a team. They needed a central leader on the field, and now they have one in Pirlo.
There is a very good reason why despite spending millions on players this summer the most attention Juventus grabbed has been from securing Pirlo’s signature. He is a great player with amazing vision and tactical awareness, and an accomplished veteran leader. This week he showed why he deserves so much attention. There will be weeks this season when he struggles for fitness, and there will be weeks when he dominates games and leads Juve to victory. It may no be entirely in Conte’s power to keep him healthy, but it is perhaps his most important task this season to do everything he can to keep Pirlo as effective as possible when he needs him the most.