We pay tribute to U21 EURO ambassador Andrea Pirlo – a man with history in this competition and plenty more besides.
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Andrea Pirlo is the official tournament ambassador for next summer's UEFA European Under-21 Championship in Italy.
Pirlo is back to represent a competition he first graced more than 18 years ago. Then, an Inter player in the midst of a couple of loan spells, Pirlo scored twice in the Azzurrini's 2-1 final victory over the Czech Republic. UEFA.com celebrates a career that subsequently took in two UEFA Champions League titles, a FIFA World Cup and a whole new level of cool.
If you don't remember him
'Keep calm and pass the ball to Pirlo' was written on a popular T-shirt among Juventus fans during his four-year spell with the Bianconeri, and it is a sentence that explains his style better than anything else. Always relaxed on the ball, even in the most difficult situations, Pirlo was the ideal deep-lying playmaker.
He had the ability to read the game perfectly, dictate the tempo and pick out any pass on the pitch efficiently and effectively. Add amazing precision and craft from dead balls and you have one of the most appreciated midfield maestros in the history of the game.
What they said
"His heart beats at 35-beats-per-minute. He's as cool as a cucumber."
Gianluca Vialli, former Italy forward
"When Andrea told me he was joining us, the first thing I thought was: 'There is a God.'"
Gianluigi Buffon, former Juventus goalkeeper
"Pirlo is a silent leader. He speaks with his feet."
Marcello Lippi, former Italy coach
"Passing the ball to Andrea Pirlo is like hiding it in a safe."
Zbigniew Boniek, former Juventus forward
"Whenever I see him with the ball I ask myself whether I should really be considered a footballer."
Gennaro Gattuso, former AC Milan and Italy midfielder
"A footballer in capital letters – spectacular. We played at every level before finally meeting as professionals, when he was playing for Italy, Milan and then Juventus. I have always been an admirer of Pirlo."
Xavi Hernández, former Barcelona midfielder
International: 116 appearances, 13 goals
UEFA club competition: 139 appearances, 11 goals
European domestic competition: 556 appearances, 61 goals
Claims to fame
• Made his debut for Brescia aged 16 as a substitute against Reggiana. Born in nearby Flero, Pirlo came through Brescia's academy and established his reputation in 1996/97, scoring twice in 17 games as a 'fantasista' as his side won promotion to Serie A.
• Struck his first Serie A goal in a 4-0 home win against Vicenza the following season, ending the campaign with four goals in 29 top-flight matches.
• Boss at Brescia while Pirlo was in the youth ranks, Mircea Lucescu brought the midfielder to Inter in 1998/99 but he had a disappointing debut campaign. However, a loan move to Reggina rekindled his fire: he scored six goals in 28 games and enjoyed playing alongside fellow U21 internationals Roberto Baronio and Mohamed Kallon.
• Fared disappointingly upon returning to Inter under Marcello Lippi, and was loaned back to Brescia in January 2001, where Carlo Mazzone first deployed him as a deep-lying playmaker. The coach remembered: "Initially the rest of the team mocked my decision but I just asked everybody to always give him the ball, nothing else."
• Milan traded Argentinian winger Andrés Guglielminpietro for Inter's Pirlo, with coach Carlo Ancelotti continuing to field him as a deep-lying playmaker. Pirlo morphed into the 'architetto' (architect) of the Milan team that won the 2003 and 2007 UEFA Champions League finals.
• In between those successes, Pirlo featured in the 2005 final shoot-out loss to Liverpool, a game Milan led 3-0 at one point in Istanbul. "I considered quitting after Istanbul because nothing made sense any more," Pirlo said. "The final haunted me: insomnia, rage, depression, a sense of nothingness. We invented a new disease with multiple symptoms: Istanbul syndrome."
• Pirlo played 401 matches for Milan in all competitions, winning the Scudetto and the UEFA Super Cup twice, as well as the Coppa Italia and the FIFA Club World Cup. Ancelotti left for Chelsea, with Milan refusing Pirlo permission to join him, so the player went to Juventus at the end of an indifferent 2010/11, with many believing his best days were behind him.
• Led Antonio Conte's Juve to the Scudetto without losing a single match in 2011/12, being voted best Serie A player of the season by his peers.
• Added three more Scudettos to his cabinet, also helping Juventus reach the 2015 UEFA Champions League final (which they lost to Barcelona) before leaving for New York City in 2015.
• Guided Italy to glory in the 2000 UEFA European Under-21 Championship, scoring twice in the final against the Czechs. Remains Italy's second-top scorer at U21 level.
• Made his senior Italy bow under Giovanni Trapattoni in a UEFA EURO 2004 qualifier against Azerbaijan, yet shone brightest under Lippi, getting Italy's first goal (against Ghana) at the 2006 FIFA World Cup and also registering in the final shoot-out success over France that earned Italy their fourth World Cup.
• Came third behind Zinédine Zidane and Fabio Cannavaro in the vote for 2006 World Cup player of the tournament.
• Helped Italy to the final of UEFA EURO 2012, where they lost to Spain, famously chipping Joe Hart as the Azzurri pipped England on penalties in the quarter-finals.
• Claimed his 100th Italy cap during the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup, marking it with a goal in a 2-1 victory over Mexico at the Maracanã Stadium. Pirlo ended his Italy career in 2015 with 116 caps – only Buffon, Fabio Cannavaro, Paolo Maldini and Daniele De Rossi have more.
What you might not know
• Pirlo is famous for stony-faced dealings with the press, but team-mates described him as a dressing-room joker. Gattuso recalled: "Once he took my phone and sent Milan director Ariedo Braida a text, pretending to be me, saying I would give him my sister in exchange for a new contract."
• He is a wine expert. In 2007 he opened a winery in his father's home village Coler, near Brescia. "I've always drunk wine, ever since I was little, when my mother mixed it with water for me," he said. "I like to read about wine, to understand it, and to try wines from other regions, other labels."
• 'The Pirlo', a cocktail known as Brescia's answer to the Spritz, was described by the New York Times as best drink of 2017.
• After Alessandro Del Piero in 2008, Pirlo became the second Juve player given a standing ovation at the Bernabéu when substituted with 11 minutes to go in a 1-1 draw at Real Madrid which took Juve to the 2015 UEFA Champions League final.
• Pirlo is one of just 11 players to have starred for Italy's big three: Juventus, Milan and Inter. The others are: Luigi Cevenini, Giuseppe Meazza, Enrico Candiani, Aldo Serena, Roberto Baggio, Edgar Davids, Christian Vieri, Patrick Vieira, Zlatan Ibrahimović and Leonardo Bonucci.
What he says
"Football is played with the head. Your feet are just tools."
"To win you need personality; if you don't have that, your opponents will eat you alive."
"I don't feel pressure ... I spent the afternoon of Sunday 9 July 2006 in Berlin sleeping and playing PlayStation. In the evening I went out and won the World Cup."