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End of an Era...Time to Say Goodbye

I guess it is time to start some serious discussions; I just didn’t plan on starting it with such a good bye. For many Pirlo evokes a handful of emotions, for some they are not good. Reading some of the comments from the past season regarding one of Milan’s, if not football’s, most influential players has been a bit odd. For me he has always fit a few emotions or feelings quite nicely: subtle, under appreciated, and silky smooth. For a casual fan, someone who prefers step-overs to tactics, it would be hard to see the value of a player like Pirlo, but for a true fan, a connoisseur of the game so to speak, Pirlo is something far more than a player, he is a true midfield maestro.

I guess before we can honor him, or memorialize him even, there are a few things I need to get off my chest. Pirlo provided next to nothing in this year’s title run save a spectacular goal against Parma. This wasn’t his fault; injury robbed us of an influential player, but clearly didn’t rob us of a title. It is hard to argue that with Pirlo in the team a different sort of balance is needed, this was never more evident than his heyday under Carletto being flanked by Rino and Ambro, his body guards. Allegri took a different approach, one that allowed his flair players to be closer to goal, and his midfield to be bulldogs. At times he played a playmaker in the LM role, but when the team needed balance he opted for traditional holding players with a bit less style. How can we argue with Max? He did after all deliver us a title. With that said this team is going in a different direction, arguably the right direction, with or without Pirlo.

"Allegri wants a player with more defensive characteristics compared to Andrea when sitting in front of the defence," Tassotti said. "We wanted to see how he could do in a wider role, but then Andrea started to have injury problems that kept him off the field for many months.

"I don't know if we'll take different paths now, as that is a problem we'll have to wait and see about. In any case, Pirlo remains an important player not just for Milan but for Italian football."

Now I can’t argue with Andrea Pirlo for leaving, frankly because I respect players who want to go somewhere to actually play, and be influential, something he may not be guaranteed of at Milan. What I don’t like is his sense of entitlement to first team football when he should earn it just like everyone else in the off season, an off season to prove he is still valuable and silence his critics. This also lends itself to the wage argument, his season didn’t merit high wages, instead a deal with some incentives, such as the one Michael Ballack received in Leverkusen, would make more sense. But Andrea was having neither, he wanted the wages, a place in the first team, and minimal effort…something in the end I can’t support. So it is on that note we seemingly say good-bye to one of the decade’s most influential footballers.

For me, a student of tactics, Pirlo exemplifies the perfect player. He doesn’t win matches, he doesn’t lose them, but what he does is so crucial it is often times taken for granted. On a good day he is like a ghost, receiving and distributing the ball so effortlessly, efficiently and simply it appears he isn’t even there. On his phenomenal days he can land a pass on a quarter for a poacher to finish in one touch, or play a ball so deftly in the opposite direction it was almost like his hair was hiding a second set of eyes. What Pirlo does for the efficiency of a team has no equal, sure many have tried, Xabi Alonso or Xavi Hernandez coming closest, but so few have done so as well as Pirlo so deep on the pitch. A place where many say only true men play the game, the center of the park. To the casual fan he is a just a CM, but to a true fan he is release valve, a link from back to front, and a player whose vision can make even a static forward look intelligent. Imagine for a minute a lumbering CB collects a ball and has no forward option; suddenly Pirlo appears, receives a short sloppy pass and with a magic touch, turns effortlessly and begins an attack 60 meters from goal, that in simplest terms is the magic of Andrea Pirlo.

Sadly, his function at AC Milan was no longer vital, the creativity and pace of players like Robinho, Cassano, Zlatan and Pato meant that such a long pass was no longer vital. Instead the simple efficient short passes of Van Bommel, Ambro, and Rino were more than sufficient to get the ball forward. With so many talented strikers, creativity so close to our own goal was no longer needed, instead grit and steel were needed in that part of the pitch. Which brings me to another point, one that is often lost in new or younger Milan fans, who didn't grow to appreciate Pirlo as so many of us have. It was because of Pirlo Milan survived when Sheva was sent to Chelsea and we were left with sub par strikers, it was because of Pirlo that Ricky Kaka was able to win the golden ball, it was because of Pirlo Italy won its first World Cup since 1986.

Sadly, all good things come to an end, players come and go, and out of these changes are born new stars, new identities, and new tactics. No one is to blame here. Pirlo has given us great joy and effort, enough so to deserve our respect and support as he seeks a new challenge and the Club has chosen to support Max Allegri as puts his mark on the team and assures us a foundation for future success. I wish Pirlo the best of luck be it at Juventus, a Club I have always respected, Chelsea, QPR or maybe a reunion with Carletto wherever that may be. I just hope that luck isn’t against the Rossoneri! But please don’t lambast the man who gave so much to the game, the Club, and the Country. He gave birth to a position, a style of play that many tried to emulate but so few succeeded. We had the pleasure to enjoy a once and a life time player and do nothing to take that away from him. I will never forget the memories and successes, and I will never forget the joy I shared with Andrea Pirlo. It is not always easy to move on, but having done so in my own life this past year, I can assure you that we have fond memories and inspiration from the past but we can now begin to live for the new future of AC Milan.