No one should need to qualify such a statement. This is a man, after all, whose almost foppish physical nonchalance is complemented by what seems like a cybernetically inclined ability to initiate attacks from his own half, the kind of player who imbues the fundamental simplicity of football as form with an aching beauty. Much has been made of England's bizarre inability to quickly close down and pressurize a thirty three year old deep lying playmaker who, despite the renowned majesty of his technique, has never been blessed with the most scintillating pace. Any pace at all, actually. We should have shut him down. We should have pressed higher up the pitch, packed the midfield, marked the potential recipients of those arcing, crystalline passes out of the game. Of course, any or all of these analyses are fundamentally wrongheaded, tacitly peddling, as they do, the flawed logic that Pirlo is a player who exists as a product of contemporaneity.
You will die.
You won't hear/read/see it all.
Sorry. This is meant to be about Andrea Pirlo. And it honestly still is.
Keith Morris of Black Flag and the Circle Jerks once described his first encounter with punk rock as “like a fucking comet hitting the planet... I had never heard or seen anything like it”, which neatly sums up the insanely exotic allure of one game and one highlights package a week streamed straight into our living rooms from a country that could then quite comfortably claim to have the best league in the world. In 1993 Gazzetta Football Italia seemed like sci-fi. Having been served up the turgid dunderheadedness of a Fitzroy Simpson, Mike Quigley and Andy Dibble for the previous years of my existence, this was an otherworldly addition to my usual Sunday evening itinerary. There was something different about the Italian game, something so much more profound and expressive than what our season ticket treated us to on a weekly basis. At least thats how it seemed back then. Everything feels monumental when you're 8 years old. Even the minor teams, the Padova's, Reggiana's and Chievo's of this world, seemed to have a playmaker. Someone who could make time for himself on the ball. Someone who didn't shirk under pressure. Someone who slowed the game down. Someone patient.
Someone exactly like Andrea Pirlo, then. The possibility of witnessing the birth of a future mythology in real time is one of the few elements of unpredictability in modern football that international tournaments serve to enhance. My aforementioned preoccupations with the inherent tragedy of conventional masculinities often leads me to pay especially close attention to those players who know this might be their last tournament, their final chance to etch a legend. I make no apologies for this romantic filleting. Zidane's magnificently original chest-butt represents the apex of this tradition, for the true legend in the making must be prepared to do things on their own terms, to never sell out or play the game by someone else’s rules. Like Zidane was then, Pirlo is currently possessed of an inescapable air of pathos, a sense that every pass might be his last. The modern day obsession for absurd slo-mo hi definition reaction shots of players has only heightened his existential appeal, the total freedom he attains with every calculated ball into his front men, each beguiling slip down the line to his supporting fullbacks representing a man fundamentally out of sync with modernity. And therein lies his real heroism. I don't buy into the argument that Vicente Del Bosque's all conquering Spanish side have become particularly boring to watch (that fault lies in the adventurousness or otherwise of the opposition they face), but it appears self evident that they are a by-product of information overload, obsessive hoarders of possession like so many MP3's on an external hard drive, terrified to give the ball away, to let go, they are the ultimate multitaskers, resting as they work, working when they rest.
But Pirlo! Pirlo plays Slow Football. Reflective football. Finding time, appreciating space and the moments between actions. Coincidentally, the new LP by Trapist arrived on my door step just days before Italy's first game in the group stages. As its title suggests, The Golden Years shimmers throughout with a luminous sense of unravelling time and space. Its dedication to patience in an age of maximalism is the key entry point to its multiple modes of emotional interrogation – in parts it is truly, glisteningly beautiful. Tentative gestures, notes left hanging in the air pensively. Its magnificently sad in places, moments of up front noise and textured caterwauls are often immediately paired back to a regretful, almost embarrassed minor key supplication. It often retreats into near silence, a powerful expression of introspection in an age of hyperinformation.