Ever since he first appeared in the calcio big leagues and all through the last decade, we’ve seen Andrea Pirlo do it all. Goals, assists, and passing percentages do really no justice to the man’s genius, from his innate sense of vision all the way down to the ball-playing skills which nature — but also very hard work — has given the Italian playmaker. Along with the very special ability to kick a leather sphere exactly where he wants it, with a certainty you could stake your house on (but making sure not to tell Stefano Palazzi).
As a natural corollary of possessing sublime kicking abilities, it should come as no surprise to
those who’ve been living under a rock the uninitiated that Pirlo is a also a very, VERY good set piece specialist. In that respect too, the Juventus midfielder is capable of imprinting onto the ball a whole spectrum of different trajectories. From the “classic” inswinger over the defensive wall, to the more tricky but equally effective shot around the wall… all the way to the legendary “maledetta” (aka “cursed” shot), a type also made famous by Cristiano Ronaldo denoting a kick that, if hit just right on the air valve, gives the ball a very unpredictable and last-second “dipping” nature.
Pirlo has recently added another variant: the cunning daisy-cutter to fool a jumping defensive wall, which even inspired a certain Leo Messi to shoot (and score) vs. Uruguay for Argentina! For Andrea, it’s already worked three times in Serie A this year: against Parma, against Roma (kinda), and recently vs. Siena. And it’s just the beginning of October…
As alluded to earlier, for as much Pirlo can be grateful to mother nature for bestowing him certain talents, one of the main reasons of the midfielder’s abilities is very much in tune with Antonio Conte’s training philosophy: HARD WORK. When imagining professional footballers practicing free kicks, the childhood stories of David Beckham shooting the ball into a hanging tire swing inside his garden, or Alessandro Del Piero using furniture inside his mother’s living room as targets, always spring to mind. Pirlo is no different, and it is precisely through maniacal preparation from a very early age that the ‘Bearded Genius’ (as our very own Lars Pedersen has dubbed him) was able to achieve the level he is at today.
The fact that he, after every youth training session (and still today, though less frequently), stopped between a half-hour to one hour to practice free kicks from a variety of distances, will seem mundane. Free-kick specialists worldwide carry out the same training program, and with good reason: practice makes perfect. I don’t know about you, but I could watch Pirlo taking free kicks all day. Poor Morgan De Sanctis…
Yet back in the day, Pirlo went a step further as we learned from a Gazzetta article published recently. Nowadays the ball used by Lega Calcio in Serie A is the same all across Italy, but this was not always so. A few years ago, every team used a slightly different model inside their home stadium, each with marginally unique bouncing characteristics. Well Pirlo made sure that before every away match, he was sent the home team’s specific match ball (a legal right for every visiting team) and spent hours and hours of midweek training sessions practicing ball control, juggling, shooting, and exercises on technique.
In addition to that, as an example of his perfectionist and anal nature, the player also spent hours on end in front of a TV set, with video footage from all over the globe displaying those “other” free kick specialists, to see if he could pick something up from the world masters. “In truth the *biggest* advantage I had was to be able to train alongside Robert Baggio, a real phenom and also my model” he admitted during his time with Brescia in 2001. Shortly after, Pirlo would move to AC Milan and begin a new era of glory and triumphant successes, not just with the Rossoneri but also with the Italian national team.
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With his club teams, Andrea Pirlo has so far scored 19 GOALS directly from free kicks in Serie A: 2 with Brescia, 3 with Reggina, 10 with AC Milan, and 4 with Juventus. He currently leads the ranking of players still on active duty, in front of Francesco Totti (12, plus an extra 6 from indirect FKs passed to him by a teammate), Fabrizio Miccoli (8), Totò Di Natale (7), Gaetano D’Agostino, Sebastian Giovinco, and Francesco Lodi (6).
If we expand the ranking to include retired players as well, in the last 30 years Pirlo ranks 5th behind true free-kicking legends such as Sinisa Mihaijlovic (28), Alessandro Del Piero (22), Roberto Baggio and Gianfranco Zola (20). Right behind him aren’t exactly a couple of “nobodies” either: Diego Armando Maradona (14), Enrico Chiesa, Michel Platini, Álvaro Recoba (13), Giuseppe Signori and Francesco Totti (12).
Serie A FREE KICK Topscorers
(goals scored directly on a set piece)
|Players on Active Duty||Goals||ALL-TIME Ranking||Goals|
|Andrea PIRLO||19||Sinisa Mihaijlovic||28|
|Francesco Totti||12||Alessandro Del Piero||22|
|Fabrizio Miccoli||8||Roberto Baggio||20|
|Antonio Di Natale||7||Gianfranco Zola||20|
|Gaetano D’Agostino||7||Andrea PIRLO||19|
|Sebastian Giovinco||6||Diego Armando Maradona||14|
|Francesco Lodi||6||Enrico Chiesa||13|
If we consider that Juventus earn on average 15 free kicks per match (103 FKs in 7 matches so far), with starters like Giovinco, Vucinic, and Asamoah earning 3.02, 2.38, and 2.18 free kicks per game respectively (usually not too far from the opponent’s penalty box), Pirlo’s all-time statistics should inevitably continue to get better. Much to the delight of Juventini everywhere…