Though Andrea Pirlo’s move to New York City FC hasn’t hit saga levels yet, it already feels rather tiresome.
While nothing is official as of now, although in the world of football that can change in nanoseconds, Pirlo is expected to sign for around $5 million to $6 million a season. Which is said to be around the regions of already signed Designated Players David Villa and Frank Lampard.
Whether Pirlo will join this summer or in January 2016 is still up for debate, as reports in Italy suggest, the Juventus playmaker is still hopeful of an Azzurri call-up for next summer’s European Championship.
Though conflicting reports from the BBC indicate the former Inter midfielder wants to be released from his contract now.
Pirlo is still a magician with the ball at his feet, able to pick a pass with pinpoint accuracy. The Italian World Cup winner was never blessed with amazing foot speed, but that hasn’t stopped the 36-year-old from being one of the best to ever play as a regista.
Presumably, he will adapt to Major League Soccer play quite easily. With Italian football known for its defensive fluidity and difficulties to breakdown, the Italian should be able to pick the less tactical MLS apart with more ease than Serie A.
However, it’s less of what Pirlo’s individual skills can do for NYFC than what the overall team will look like when he arrives. NYCFC will have quite a high-priced central midfield pair in Lampard and Pirlo, not to mention the highly-rated USA international Mix Diskerud.
Manager Jason Kreis will either need to drop one of the three or play a formation that suits all to get the best out his squad. Playing 4-2-2 will presumably mean one drops to the bench. However, Diskerud being the most youthful could either move out into a wide position or play off the main striker.
If Kreis goes for a 4-3-3 formation, this leaves the club without a true ball winner. Instead the club would have three midfielders more suited to attack than to protecting the club’s back four.
Currently that back four are playing very well, giving up three goals in their last four matches, including a clean sheet last weekend against Toronto FC. Of the three – Lampard, Pirlo and Diskerud – who will do the work needed off the ball and in defence is up for debate. With that defence playing so well currently, there’s no reason to adjust it now.
While neither Lampard, Pirlo nor Diskerud are ball winners, Kreis does have Andrew Jacobson; the only one of the four who is a true defensive midfielder – currently averaging three tackles and 2.1 interceptions a game.
Against Toronto last weekend, Kreis deployed a conventional 4-4-2 with Diskerud and Jacobson playing as his central pairing. Jacobson played his part well, winning the ball and starting the attack as Diskerud moved into more advanced roles to support Villa. Jacobson had 49 touches, six tackles and completed 81.3% of his passes according to WhoScored.com. Overall, a good night for the American.
Regardless of how Kreis deploys his side once Lampard, and presumably Pirlo, join the team; it seems Jacobson will be the odd man out. Perhaps that is why last weekend’s performance was so good, he is a man playing for his position.
However, if Kreis wants his two stars on the field along with his young jewel – Diskerud – and his grafter – Jacobson – than a five man midfield would work best.
Deploying Pirlo as his deep laying midfielder with Jacobson to protect him is ideal. Diskerud and Lampard would be able to cover much of the ground box-to-box and NYCFC would have a dynamic, creative unit.
The only problem is, the club would be devoid of true wide players. However, against the Reds, Kreis used Mehdi Ballouchy and Ned Grabavoy, traditionally central midfielders, to play down the flanks.
It may not be perfect, but Kreis can use his pieces in an effective manner. A sign of a truly good manager.
NYCFC are trying to make a splash, no doubt about it, and while their current team building doesn’t appear anywhere near long-term – something the Red Bulls could be just as guilty of – they are trying to get fans interested right away.
The club sit on 17 points, in eighth place after 16 games, but only due to goal difference are they outside of the playoff places. Lampard and Pirlo’s arrivals could be what propels the club to the playoffs in a very weak Eastern Conference.
Down the line, the club will need to address the elephant in the room, which is the age of their three stars. The club’s three Designated Players – Lampard, Pirlo, and Villa – combine for an average age of 35.3-years old.
Of course they are Designated Players, yet the club will have around $18 million wrapped up in them. Although the East is weak, the cynical soccer fan would assume the three stars – a Spaniard, an Englishman and an Italian – are just there to sell shirts in the city that never sleeps.
While fellow MLS debutant Orlando City elected to sign two fairly unknown South Americans to support Kaka, NYCFC have gone all-in. Will it pay off? Expect some further structuring to the team in July and August. Right now, however, NYCFC have done enough to put themselves in the frame for the playoffs.
Follow Drew Farmer on Twitter @Calciofarmer. Drew Farmer is a Manchester, England-based journalist/blogger that has writes for MLSGB and World Soccer Talk. Drew has also been read on Forza Italian Football and Soccerly. Originally from southwest Missouri, Drew covers Italy’s Serie A, English football and USA soccer.
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