Football has a remarkable ability to bring together entirely different personalities. This theory could not be applied any more aptly than in regard to two characters that have become cornerstones of Italy’s dynamic midfield, Milan duo Andrea Pirlo and Gennaro Gattuso.
Pirlo, from the quiet northern town of Flero, is the mild mannered individual of the pair. He is laidback and retiring and often shies away from press attention despite his legendary status in Milan. He began his career as an attacking midfielder, a ‘trequartista’, however, shortly after Inter sold him to local rivals Milan – a decision Massimo Moratti has come to profoundly regret – Carlo Ancelotti moulded him into a deep-lying playmaker or ‘L’Archetto’ as he is known by fans of the Rossoneri.
A footballing sixth sense and arrow-like passing ability allows Pirlo to boss midfield battles and has earnt him the nickname of ‘the metronome’ for his ability to set a team’s rhythm. His passing is forward in terms of its geography and thinking and he has an outstanding ability to unlock a defence with a single pass. Pirlo’s talents are exceptional – tranquillity, control and poise mean any side lucky enough to have him will almost undoubtedly improve the quality of their football. Constantly on commentators’ lips, continuously in possession, Pirlo plays the game, as if he was completing a dot to dot puzzle with the football.
At Milan, he has forged an impressive midfield partnership with Gattuso over the years, Pirlo able to find space and time in congested midfield areas thanks to Gattuso’s appetite for battle and immense energy. Together they have played an integral role in some of the most successful ‘Rossoneri’ sides in the history of the club, but Gattuso is almost the stylistic polar opposite of his partner. A fiery, aggressive southerner renowned for his no-nonsense all-action approach to the game. He is known as ‘Ringhio’, which literally translates as snarl or ‘The Snarler’ and has gained the status as a cult hero amongst fans of the Rossoneri.
However, Gattuso’s career did not begin as successfully as would have been anticipated, his perceived technical ineptitude limiting his first team appearances for Perugia before being farmed out to Scotland to play for Rangers. Under Walter Smith the Italian blossomed, seeming to take pleasure in the physical element of the British game as he slowly rebuilt the reputation he had created as a teenager.
Despite their obvious disparity, Milan’s dynamic duo are possibly the perfect midfield cocktail. The power and aggression of the bull-dog like Gattuso allows the enchanting Pirlo to control the tempo and intensity of play for both club and country. As an ageing Azzurri travel out to South Africa this summer devoid of the expectations of success that generally follow them to major tournaments, Pirlo remains a key fixture for both club and country but, with all due respect the Brescian, is now in the autumn of his glittering career.
The once untouchable pairing is finally showing signs of weakness as Italian football enters a period of transition. The question is, can these two men be replaced in the years to come by a new crop of Italian midfield talent, or is an uncertain future in store for one of footballs most celebrated nations?
The Possible Replacements:
Montolivo is far more mobile than the deep-lying Pirlo. An athletic central midfielder, he is widely regarded as a real star of the future for the Azzurri. He is immensely technically gifted and has become an essential figure in Fiorentina’s current side. However, despite such enormous potential, doubts remain as to Montolivo’s ability to control a game in the manner Pirlo does, all too often becoming a peripheral figure affecting games in fits and starts for la Viola.
Danielle De Rossi
De Rossi, like Gattuso, embodies the passion and aggression of his adoring supporters. A highly- rated midfielder who possess the qualities of both Gattuso and Pirlo in slighter proportions, the 26-year-old is already a vital cog in the Azzurri machine and could arguably be labelled their most talented player.
Palombo is building an impressive reputation as the captain of a Sampdoria side chasing European football this season. Equally comfortable both in possession and in the tackle, he is becoming more and more popular with Marcelo Lippi and will almost certainly travel to South Africa.
Aquilani left Roma as one of the most sought after young midfielders in Europe. Blessed with the coolness and composure of a true ‘Archetto’, the Roman undoubtedly has huge potential. However, he is yet to play 30 games in a season and injuries and inconsistency with Liverpool have seen his World Cup chances slip.