Just over a week after being appointed as Under-23s coach, Andrea Pirlo has succeeded Maurizio Sarri as Juventus boss following the former Chelsea manager's failure to secure a quarter-final berth in the ongoing UEFA Champions League. This decision sent shockwaves all over the world as Pirlo, a former player for the club, has no prior coaching experience.
Sarri's dismissal came shortly after Juventus failed to beat Lyon in Europe's premier competition- a defeat that stung even more when one realises the opposition team finished seventh in Ligue 1 in the recently-concluded domestic season.
This meant that Pirlo's term as the U-23s coach was short-lived as he was quickly promoted to manage the first team. However, it is one thing to coach the U-23s team and another to manage Cristiano Ronaldo and company, who are desperate for Champions League glory.
During his playing days, Andrea Pirlo was regarded as arguably the best deep-lying playmaker in the game. In 2011, he was signed by Juventus from Milan as a free agent. In the next four seasons, Pirlo rejuvenated the Bianconeri- who had undergone a slump after the Calciopoli scandal- and helped launch an incredibly successful era. He won the Scudetto four times in as many seasons and also lifted the Coppa Italia and the Supercoppa Italiana twice.
However, Pirlo is not the only club icon in football history to manage his former team with little to no experience in the top flight. A certain Pep Guardiola was roped in by Barcelona in 2007 only to produce one of the strongest teams in the history of football. Zinedine Zidane, another club legend for Real Madrid, replaced Rafa Benitez in 2016 and went on to dominate the Champions League.
Club icons being asked to manage their former clubs is very much en vogue. The likes of Frank Lampard for Chelsea, Mikel Arteta for Arsenal and Ole Gunner Solskjaer for Manchester United have all done well for their respective clubs, especially in the later parts of the season. With that in mind, the decision-makers may be hoping Pirlo can replicate the success of Zinedine Zidane and Pep Guardiola.
Why Andrea Pirlo in the first place?
The decision to replace Maurizio Sarri had arguably been taken much earlier, with the Juventus' Champions League exit being the final straw.
Since Juventus lost the Champions League final to Real Madrid in 2017, things have looked a little stale at the club. Despite the signing of star player Cristiano Ronaldo, Massimiliano Allegri's 2018-19 team failed to attract fans.
Maurizio Sarri was roped in for 2019-20 but things simply went from bad to worse. The Italian tactician failed to understand the Juventus system and struggled to unlock the true potential of the players.
Juventus were critical of Sarri's approach to impose his methods and his public behaviour did little to impress the board. Tarnished relations with Cristiano Ronaldo and other senior players didn't help his case either.
The second coming of Andrea Pirlo at the club is expected to solve some of these issues. Pirlo is a fan favourite and one of the most decorated players for Juventus. Andrea Agnelli, the Bianconeri president, will be hoping that this gamble pays off just like it did with Antonio Conte in 2011.
Pirlo was a great player who had the vision and intelligence to lead his team on the pitch. The former Juventus player understands what it takes to be successful with the club and his experience could help the Bianconeri win the elusive Champions League. He is well-versed in the Juventus mentality and very few know the club's system better than him.
Having said that, Juventus could have gone with a more experienced alternative in Mauricio Pochettino or even brought Massimiliano Allegri back. However, this would have meant the manager asking for an investment in the squad, which the board cannot afford in the current COVID-19 situation.
With a young coach like Pirlo, this is less likely to be the case, with vice-president Pavel Nedved and sporting director Fabio Paratici retaining much of the power in the transfer market.
Another rationale behind his appointment could be how Zidane excelled in the managerial role at Real Madrid. Both Zidane and Pirlo are generally quiet and thoughtful individuals, who believe in leading by example. Both are confident in their abilities and have a tactical eye. Like Zidane, Pirlo is calm and has worked under some of the best coaches in football.
The appointment of Pirlo also buys the Bianconeri board some time and much more leeway if the results don't go his way. Fans would be much more understanding as they know this is the dawn of a new era under one of their own.
What are the issues at the club?
Pirlo, as a manager, is likely to face several issues considering how unsettled the Juventus team has been towards the end. Having won the Scudetto with the lowest points tally in 9 years, the Bianconeri were beaten on multiple occasions and lacked the qualities shared by top European clubs.
The average age of the Bianconeri squad is 29.6, which is the oldest in Italian football. Pirlo needs to cut down on the age factor as it can weigh the team down in European competitions.
In attack, Juventus have achieved excellence with a proven goal-getter in Cristiano Ronaldo and Serie A's MVP Paulo Dybala. Dejan Kulusevski is also set to arrive from Parma next season. However, they are in dire need of a centre-forward who can not only score 20 goals in a season but can also link up with Dybala and Ronaldo.
Juventus have one of the best young central defenders in Matthijs de Ligt and Merih Demiral, the pride of Turkey's defence. In Wojciech Szczęsny, they have a dependable goalkeeper who has made crucial saves to win them multiple matches this season.
However, Juventus' main concern arises in full-back and midfield- Pirlo's domain. The Serie A champions conceded more than 40 goals this season. If Pirlo could sign a couple of full-backs and squeeze a year or two from veteran defenders Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci, he could have the defence perform at the required levels.
When it comes to the midfield, Adrien Rabiot did show improvement towards the end of the season, and Arthur will also be joining from Barcelona. Rodrigo Bentancur can be a useful player while Juventus are looking to offload Aaron Ramsey and Khedira.
Pirlo needs a balanced midfield that will not only help transport the ball to the likes of Ronaldo but also alleviate the pressure on the defence. He will certainly be looking to improve the midfield department with some value-for-money signings.
This season was a difficult one for Juventus, and when they finally won the league, celebrations were subdued. More than being happy, players looked relieved that the season was over. Juventus are a top club who should be enjoying their hard-earned success. Pirlo, therefore, needs to bring back the joy in his team's play and make his players enjoy the sport again.
Pirlo's greatest challenge as Juventus boss, however, will not be sorting out tactics but dealing with players who do not possess the same level of intelligence and greatness as him. He will subsequently have to be incredibly patient with the players.
What can manager Andrea Pirlo bring to the table for Juventus?
After a decade of domestic dominance, Juventus are desperate to win the Champions League. In the last 25 years, some of the top managers like Carlo Ancelotti, Fabio Capello, Didier Deschamps, Claudio Ranieri, Antonio Conte, and Massimiliano Allegri have all tried to win the elusive trophy but in vain. Can Andrea Pirlo win it for Juventus?
Pirlo understands Italian football and Juventus like few others do. As a former player, he is more likely to understand the players and communicate in a way that Sarri didn't. Winning the faith of the dressing room would be easier for him, considering he knows Buffon, Bonucci and Chiellini very well.
Ronaldo, who would often be seen rolling his eyes over Sarri, would not do the same with Pirlo who- like Zidane- is a club legend. Hopefully, the rookie manager will be able to unlock the true potentials of the Portuguese forward.
During his time at Juventus as a player, Pirlo was known as 'the professor' for his qualities to understand tactics better than anybody. He also impressed the Juventus directors with his vision for the club during their meeting. Like many top European clubs, he wants Juventus to play attacking football where they have a lot of possession.
Pirlo envisions the team dominating games and finishing them off. However, unlike Gian Piero Gasperini of Atalanta, he is not willing to sacrifice defensive solidity for attractive attacking play as he believes that matches are won at the back. Pirlo's preferred system is the classic 4-3-3 but he is open to changes in the system and working with the characteristics of available players, as opposed to Sarri who was rigid in his approach.
The 41-year-old is self-confident and has a belief that Juventus should always be winning. His charisma and vision would hopefully recharge Juventus after a rather disappointing campaign by their high standards.
What next for Juventus if Pirlo fails to impress?
The best-case scenario with Andrea Pirlo at the helm would be that he goes into the pre-season to spend some time with the players, formulate his plans and turn Juventus into a roaring success like Zidane did with Real Madrid.
If things don't go as planned, the board have the option to bring in a new coach for next season and start their rebuild all over again without taking a major financial hit.
Pirlo signed a two-year contract and he only pockets £1.6million per year. Only Merih Demiral, Gianluigi Buffon and Carlo Pinsoglio reportedly earn lesser than the new boss.
Before hiring Pirlo, Juventus president Andrea Agnelli had his eyes set on Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane but the Frenchman was a far-fetched target due to his commitments with the Spanish giants. However, if Pirlo fails to impress, Zidane could be an option for the Bianconeri, with his current contract running down in June 2022.