I Think Therefore I Play
By Andrea Pirlo with Alessandro Alciato
BackPage Press, 2014
A love of Woody Allen and cinema in general; an appreciation of ‘philosopher’ as ‘a nice compliment’; the secrets of great free-kick taking; ‘I’ll sometimes come home after training, light the fire and pour myself a glass of wine.’ These are the kind of insights you’d expect to glean from the world’s classiest footballer. You won’t be disappointed but Andrea Pirlo is not a man to rush things, or to sell himself short. So instead of the comfort of the lounge, I Think Therefore I Play begins at the negotiation table of a Milan office. It turns out l’architetto is everything you knew and loved, and much more.
Don’t be fooled by his graceful, unruffled appearance on the pitch; Pirlo is made of tougher stuff. A ruthless ambition reveals itself early on in the discussions surrounding failed transfers to Real Madrid, Barcelona and Chelsea respectively. He may have spent a decade at AC Milan, through great times and later more mediocre ones, but Pirlo is no Steven Gerrard. On each occasion these top European clubs came calling, the midfielder had very little hesitation in putting his own success over any sense of loyalty. This is true even in 2006, with Milan facing the threat of relegation during the Calciopoli scandal – ‘one thing I was sure of, though: I would never drop down to Serie B.’ You could almost be forgiven for thinking it was Zlatan talking, the man Pirlo brilliantly describes as ‘a ticking timebomb of a madman’. Andrea’s eventual departure in 2011, to rivals Juventus, seems to have been as seamless off the pitch as on it. I Think shows a fully-fledged convert, a die-hard Juventino, although consecutive Serie A titles certainly helped the transition. Where Rossoneri leaders Silvio Berlusconi and Carlo Ancelotti are shown affection in passing, Antonio Conte and Andrea Agnelli get their own laudatory chapters.
The ‘Olympic torch deep within’ Andrea Pirlo also comes as something of a surprise. An intense patriotism shines throughout I Think, from the Cesare Prandelli introduction right through to thoughts on his imminent retirement. In his own words, he’s ‘an Italy ultra’ with a ‘pathological devotion’ to the Azzurri. Not that at club level he’s any less passionate or determined. Defeats weigh heavily, not least Milan’s disastrous collapse in the 2005 Champions League final versus Liverpool. Pirlo reflects at length on suffering from ‘insomnia, rage, depression, a sense of nothingness’ for weeks. Winning the same fixture two years later isn’t enough; ‘we celebrated but didn’t forget’.
Don’t let the grave face on the book jacket fool you, though, because Andrea knows ‘how to laugh, loud and long’. He’s a self-confessed pirla (dickhead), and his pranks on teammates, especially Rino Gattuso, make for brilliant reading. Humour might not be something you really expected from Pirlo but what a pleasant surprise it is to find it on every page. I Think is as quotable as Anchorman: ‘When you win, burping takes priority’, ‘after the wheel, the Playstation is the best invention of all time’, ‘It’s called an assist and it’s my way of spreading happiness’, ‘much better to be a soldier on the pitch than in the bedroom’…
But then just when you think you’ve got l’architetto nailed as just one of the lads, he reveals ‘an opinion about everything’. I Think contains Pirlo’s concise but considered thoughts on a wide range of footballing issues, including racism, technology, doping and betting. Some remarks suggest genuine oratory skill; on the subject of fan violence, Pirlo argues that Serie A is ‘way behind, and we don’t seem to realise that the further we fall, the deeper and narrower the well has become’. And even Paddy Agnew would be proud of Pirlo’s metaphor for Italy – ‘I saw the inner workings of a motor car that was imperfect, full of defects, badly driven, old and worn, and yet still utterly unique.’
Co-author Alessandro Alciato and translator Mark Palmer deserve great credit for making I Think what it is – a highly entertaining footballing autobiography that foregrounds the character of the player in question. The narrative reflects the engaging, informal style used by David Lagercrantz for I Am Zlatan, but goes one step further in avoiding all attempts at chronology. Instead, with its short, sparky chapters, I Think resembles a series of loosely connected fireside chats, the natural environment for a cultured raconteur like Pirlo. And with at least two more Serie A titles won and one last World Cup this summer, here’s hoping for a second instalment. After all, as Alciato says in his Thanks, ‘when he starts talking, there’s no stopping him’.