“I wouldn’t bet a single cent on me becoming a manager,” Andrea Pirlo said in his autobiography, I Think Therefore I Play. “There are too many worries and the lifestyle is far too close to that of a player. There’s only one Antonio Conte and that’s fine by me.”
It's January 2021, some four months after the legendary regista jumped into top-level management with no experience: and that one and only Antonio Conte has just beaten Pirlo in a Serie A showdown that significantly dents Juventus's chances at a tenth successive Scudetto. Juve lie fifth, seven points off AC Milan in first, having played a game more.
Juventus are caught between philosophies. For so long, this was a team that did what they had to so long as they won. Max Allegri favoured substance over style; the Old Lady prided themselves on the grit of Chiellini, Barzagli and Bonucci.
After all, what else, other than the end goal, would a club who signs Cristiano Ronaldo care about? “Winning isn't important,” a recent club motto suggests, “It's the only thing that matters."
Ever since Ajax knocked the Turin side out of the Champions League in 2019, the focus has shifted. What is winning if you can't enjoy it? Allegri was ousted, as the prime architect of Napoli's beautiful football, Maurizio Sarri, took the reins. Juve recruited younger ball-playing centre-backs in Matthijs De Ligt and Merih Demiral. Sarri won the league - again.
Andea Pirlo stepped in to oversee the transition. Like so many clubs in recent times - Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal to name a few - Juve were lost and looked to a club legend, overlooking his inexperience. Pirlo - like Solskjaer, Lampard or Arteta - couldn't promise victory: he was simply a chance at a restoration of the club's identity.
Andrea Pirlo is the beautiful game. He's quintessentially Juventus. He's sophisticated, intelligent and unique. This ancient institution sold the world Zidane at his pomp, a devastating Del Piero... before becoming nothing but a steamroller domestically. Juve asked to go back to beauty. They sacrificed the certainty of Serie A dominance.
Pirlo off the pace is hardly shocking: he's never managed. He never wanted to manage. But now Juventus are caught in another conflict. Do they stick by the transition and return to their ideals, or do they fire their club legend and win by any cost again? Time will tell. Pirlo was right: there are too many worries in management.
Elsewhere in Serie A
Inter Milan's supreme 2-0 statement sends them joint-top until city rivals Milan play their game in hand at least. Napoli will be three points off top if they win theirs - they thrashed Fiorentina for six at the weekend.
Bayern Munich went back to winning ways in the Bundesliga but left it until the last 15 minutes to beat Freiburg with a Thomas Muller winner. They're now four points clear at the top of the table and can look forward to one of their rivals dropping points this week, as Bayer Leverkusen face Borussia Dortmund tomorrow.
Both Leverkusen and Dortmund sit seven points behind the champions now in third and fourth respectively. Leverkusen were beaten 1-0 away to Union Berlin this weekend, while BVB were held by Mainz in the Jurgen Klopp derby.
Luka Jovic made a sweet return to Eintracht Frankfurt this weekend. The Real Madrid forward, back on loan at the club Los Blancos were impressed with the Serbian at, netted two late winners to secure victory over basement boys Schalke, to fire Die Adler up to seventh.
The Supercopa de Espana took place over the past week rather than La Liga, with surprises a-plenty.
This weekend, Lionel Messi was given his first career red card as Athletic ended up beating Barcelona in extra-time in the final. With the scores 2-2 at full-time, the Inaki Williams delivered the winner for the Basque side, before Barca's captain was given a straight sending off in the dying moments of the game.
La Liga resumes tomorrow, with three games on LaLigaTV.
Lyon are down to third, suffering a narrow defeat to Metz this weekend. Talismanic forward Memphis Depay claimed after the match that both he and teammate Houssem Aouar would love to be playing a top-three club in the world. Real, Barca or Bayern for the pair, then?
Monaco are continuing their steady return to the top table: they won 3-2 at Montpellier thanks to a Wissam Ben Yedder brace, while Rennes are level on points after a 2-1 win against Brest this weekend. Marseille could leapfrog them both into fourth, should they win their two games in hand.
Fallen giants Saint-Etienne and Nantes are hovering just above the drop-zone, with both registering just one win each since November. There could be a surprising relegation, should neither buck up their ideas.
While you're here, subscribe to FourFourTwo today and save 53%. All the exclusive interviews, long reads, quizzes and more but for less than half price...
Thank you for reading 5 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access
Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription
Join now for unlimited access
Try first month for just £1 / $1 / €1