Ripples were sent around the footballing world on Friday when Juventus, led by the indomitable Cristiano Ronaldo, were eliminated 2-2 on aggregate to Olympique Lyon of France in the Champions League.
This was a tie they were expected to cruise through, in a competition where they were among the favorites, but much to the malign of Ronaldo and company, were once again eliminated prematurely in a competition that was imperative for Juventus to finally win.
This, as all shocking defeats must prompt, led to a mass exodus at Juventus, with Maurizio Sarri, the first year coach of the team, formerly of Chelsea and Napoli, leaving the club as the biggest casualty of this disappointing result. However unfortunate it may be for the team, it’s understandable. Sarri never really clicked as the Juventus coach, it wasn’t a natural fit, as the fans weren’t all the way behind him, and he often paled in contrast to who was the biggest influence on the team: Cristiano Ronaldo.
While letting go of Maurizio Sarri, who will now be available to lead a fourth team in four years, may have been the right decision, his automatic replacement, which was shockingly announced in under a day, may not have been the best course of action to turn to. That replacement is Italian and Juventus legend Andrea Pirlo, a man who bossed the midfields of AC Milan, Juventus, and Italy for close to 15 years.
Pirlo was without a doubt a fantastic player, but he may not be a fantastic coach. For one thing, he legally cannot be a coach yet. To coach Serie A, you must obtain your UEFA Pro Licence, an exam Pirlo hasn’t sat for yet in a course he’s not even close to being done with.
One way or another, Juventus will surely find a way to make that happen for him, sources say he might take the exam in September, but the gravity of this situation needs to be taken in, and that is that the manager of one of the biggest teams in world football, doesn’t even have the basic credentials necessary to manage any team in the top two flights of Italy. In times of crisis, or semi-crisis, you need an expert, a steady hand to take charge. It would be understandable if this was a lower-tier team hiring a new, young face, but this is Juventus. Juventus!
It shows that Pirlo isn’t ready for this kind of job, until he gets experience under his belt. That experience was supposed to come when he was appointed manager of the Juventus under-23s two weeks ago, but without even managing a single match for them, he is now the first team coach, in a situation that may be well over his head. This decision to announce Andrea Pirlo as the new Juventus coach straightaway feels spontaneous, reactive, and above everything, impulsive.
It follows a new, popular trend in football, which is appointing a club legend as your manager, with the idea that someone who’s played at the club for a while knows what the team needs and knows how to fix the problems. This idea was brought into prominence with Zinedine Zidane appointed at Real Madrid, quickly winning three Champions Leagues to strengthen the cause. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer taking over Manchester United, Mikel Arteta at Arsenal, and Frank Lampard heading Chelsea have all contributed to this new concept.
But the difference is, Zidane, Solskjaer, Arteta, and Lampard all had some experience in coaching, whether it be at a smaller team, or in a smaller role, like the assistant manager in Arteta’s case. Pirlo has nothing at all.
And this really just is human nature, seeing something that works and wanting to imitate it and repeat it, when there’s far from a guarantee of success. The Juventus board of directors may have jumped the gun, hiring a man with zero experience in a field into the one of the most stressful job with the most pressure in that field: Juventus. But who knows? This might turn out to be a brilliant hire, one that proves the idea that appointing club legends with next to no experience is a great thing, but either way, it sure is very risky, and risk may not be something that Juventus, clamoring for results and trophies, are best-advised to take.
There’s also plenty of evidence as for why this won’t work, and Pirlo’s hire will crash and burn. The world and the game has changed in the ten years since Pirlo was one of the best midfielders in the world. He rose to prominence as an elite player through his role of being a deep-lying playmaker, in a system where elegance, balance, and technique were valued far ahead of pace and physicality. That is no longer the system much of the world employs; look at Liverpool, winning trophies through endless pressuring and tackling once they lose the ball, or Bayern Munich, overloading their opponents with pace on the wings.
Being fast and being physical, the traits that dominate success in football in 2020, were never quite in Pirlo’s skillset, and it seems an active worry that as a coach, he will try to institute the more passing-oriented system he thrived in ten years ago, and his Juventus team will be quickly overrun, and the system proved obsolete. Tactically, Andrea Pirlo is living in a past era.
One does have to feel for Andrea Pirlo in the end. Starting a coaching career at Juventus is never desirable. If he succeeds, it will be temporary, as most success for super-clubs are. If he fails, he will be regarded as a player unsuited for management and will likely never get a big job again, being compared with Gary Neville at Valencia, a man way over his head, and just not cut out for it. Starting at Juve compared to working your way up will likely not be the path of most prosperity.
But hey, football is unpredictable. The decisions you think are terrible often work out, and the great decisions often fall flat on their face. Pirlo’s got a blank slate ahead of him as a coach, but you have to think that this seems to be one of those cases that goes exactly as thought: an impulsive, reckless hire.