Note: There's no perfect time to start a soccer blog if you follow the game as it's played all over the world. That’s OK, because the content here won't entirely depend on a player or club’s progress during a given season. (Read on and you'll see why.) For those reasons, we're gonna go ahead and kick off now—even though it may be midseason for your team or it may be offseason—and talk about a player who doesn't even play anymore.
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Fans know and will remember Andrea Pirlo for a number of reasons: that mysterious charm, his lack of defensive play, the seemingly ignominious end to his otherwise illustrious career, and undoubtedly his iconic floppy hair, somehow both boyish and refined. But, more than these, we should all remember Pirlo for his sensational vision and creativity—and the undeniable technical ability to realize both.
This post ultimately isn’t just about Pirlo and his final playing days, nor is this blog merely about MLS. Admittedly, given Pirlo's status as a retiree, referencing him may cast these words in a provincial and out-of-date light. So be it. Because, in many ways, Pirlo still represents what this blog is about.
Late in his career—after he'd already won half a dozen Serie A titles and a couple UEFA Champions League trophies, as well as a World Cup and a host of other honors—Pirlo transferred to then-new New York City FC in MLS. The icon's move saw the same criticisms as previous moves to MLS by talented European players. It's a retirement league. He's chasing a paycheck. Enjoy the beach. (By the way, if 38-year-old Ashley Cole's recent move to second-tier English club Derby County doesn't convince you the man still loves to play, well, we doubt much will. Maybe it's part of a transition to a tentative coaching position with former-teammate Frank Lampard, maybe not. Regardless, we applaud Cole's tenacity.)
Despite all these criticisms, we guess even hardened cynics celebrated Pirlo's MLS arrival. They'd have been right to.
Pirlo's game undoubtedly stumbled somewhat in the transition. And during his time with NYCFC, MLS fans heard the same tired assessments about his lack of pace and low defensive work rate. (Don't @ us. Remember, top Serie A sides never asked him to carry the defensive burden. Why should NYCFC have been any different?) At a certain point, though, Pirlo himself offered an appraisal, saying there was too much running in the league and “too little play.” Well, if his namesake was any indicator, the real show was likewise in how this Mozart played. And MLS fans were lucky to witness the symphony. A bending assist from the corner flag. Casual brilliance at the top of the box. True-to-form passes from the heart of midfield.
In short, even at the close of his career, Pirlo allowed the brilliance, for example, of David Villa's superstardom to shine even brighter, and he helped comparatively unremarkable players to occasionally glimmer in the firmament as well. Indeed, his nigh ineffable gifts came with risks, but, while critics criticized, Pirlo's elegance nevertheless inspired, and he, with his singular charm, made us feel almost clumsy in our awe.
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You still here?
We hope so, because we're only now getting to the point. Time and again we've heard fans and commentators posit: Would you rather your team win or play beautifully? Sure, everyone wants both, but, if it's one or the other, only the latter can call us back again and again.
That's why this blog is about The Beautiful Game.
Pirlo may have lacked certain footballing qualities when he played—and his presence didn't guarantee NYCFC post-season success—but goddammit if, even late in his career, he didn’t understand beauty and style. (Besides, our idiosyncrasies are often what define our beauty.) We’re fans because the game is beautiful, and this blog celebrates the elements that make it so.
In his melancholic wisdom, Tom Waits called the world “a hellish place.” Hell, we probably agree. But we don’t watch soccer with the same cynicism as we view the world. For the most part, we're not here to malign players or coaches. And don't expect posts filled entirely with statistics—we're not analysts, just fans. (That said, we will introduce some stats and discuss formations to give context from time to time). Instead, expect longer narratives as well as short posts, frustration as well as awe.
Whether we focus on a player, club, or league, or if we examine a movement as part of a larger culture, we hope to address, in some way, how each contributes beauty to soccer.
Sometimes we’ll be wrong, other times right, but always we’ll be fans of The Beautiful Game.