There are many ways in which to love Andrea Pirlo.
The man is coolness personified. If I wasn’t already three years older than him and a goalkeeper, he’s the type of footballer I’d want to be.
One part of my job I’ll never learn to love is the pre-match warm-up. I hate it with every fibre of my beingAndrea Pirlo
If he isn’t making a fool of Joe Hart by dinking the ball past him as he wrongly guesses which side he’ll place his penalty, he’s sitting by the vines in his vineyard, nonchalantly sipping on a glass of wine he has produced himself.
His style on the pitch is as effortless as it is off it.
He doesn’t pass the ball, he strokes it with his foot, almost as if it would shatter if he were to strike it with any great power.
I look on with great envy as he posts pictures on his Instagram account of him standing by the fire in his library, his faithful dog sat by his side.
It’s not only man’s best friend that thinks he’s the master.
Throughout your life, you accumulate heroes, mostly from your journey to adulthood, through adolescence.
The Peter Pan effect football has on players can stunt your growth in maturity and in many ways it’s what keeps you in a job.
The minute some players mature and become “civilized” is the day they stop doing the things that made them a cut above the thousands of other who set out on that same journey.
Because of your short shelf-life, the last thing you want to hear are the words ‘stalwart’ and ‘veteran’.
You hold on to to your youth as if it were a cliff edge. Inevitably though, you slowly lose your grip.
The biggest wake-up call was the day I began lining-up alongside players who weren’t even born when I started my career in 1992.
Having a 16-year-old John Stones play in front of you when you’re 34 feels more like a stint of babysitting than a game of football.
That’s part of your job as you get older though; “Look after him. Talk him through the game. Encourage him.”.
As it turned out, he didn’t take much looking after. Clearly.
This is why it feels strange to have heroes who are younger than you.
I feel the same about Gianluigi Buffon as I do about Pirlo. It’s more admiration than hero worship but if I’m in with something, I’m all in.
Perhaps that’s why I’m rubbish at poker.
If I don’t like my cards I fold, if I love them I push all my chips forward into then centre of then table.
Back to Pirlo.
So keen was I to read his autobiography, I Think Therefore I Play, I did it within days of buying it and although the self-aggrandising way he talks about himself may come across as overly arrogant and self-absorbed, you allow him to do so because ... well, because he is Andrea Pirlo.
I mean, how many other players would base the title of their book around the philosophy of René Descartes?
As I was reading his book, if I ever began to think: ‘Wow, this guy really does have a high opinion of himself’, I knew the thought only came from a place where I wished I had the ability to match that scale of self-confidence.
There was one quote in the book that I did take umbrage at though and it was this: “One part of my job I’ll never learn to love is the pre-match warm-up. I hate it with every fibre of my being. It’s for conditioning coaches, their way of enjoying themselves at the players’ expense”.
Now, this is hardly offensive stuff to most and it’s highly understandable given the kind of player Pirlo is but I have an admission to make.
I am obsessed with pre-match warm-ups. I love them.
After reading the quote from the passage of Pirlo’s book, it made me feel as if my quirk was actually perversion.
I dare say most players hate warm-ups but to me they were the most important part of a game.
I placed as much importance on my warm-up than I did on the game.
If I was well prepared and I felt I’d had a good warm-up then I’d feel the other 90 minutes would go well.
Over the years I developed a set routine which I’d go through religiously, altering only slightly by the insistence of goalkeeping coaches who felt the need to tinker.
As I got older, the warm-ups would get longer, feeling the need to cram more practice in before kick-off.
In the beginning I’d go out at 2.15pm on a Saturday and be back in the dressing room for 2.45pm.
In the end, I’d be out on the pitch for 1.45pm and spend an hour out there covering every single base.
The only trouble with having a rigid routine was if it was disrupted by a late arrival or a manager insisting on a team meeting between 1.45pm and 2.15pm.
I’d start coughing and tapping the studs of my boots on the dressing room floor, trying to hurry him up, all the while screaming “Wrap. It. Up!” in my head.
As a coach now, I’ve tried to become more fluid with the needs of each individual keeper prior to games.
I’ve still spent far too much time thinking about warm-ups than necessary but I continue to place a great importance on them because I think you can greatly influence your keeper’s performance in those 60 minutes before a game.
Every game I go to, whether it’s to watch a particular goalkeeper, team or simply just for pleasure, I make a point of going out early to watch the teams warm up. Especially the keepers. I like to see their demeanour, if they are confident, over-relaxed, or maybe nervous.
I like to watch their technique, look out for any strengths or flaws.
I like to watch other coaches and see if I can pick up any routines or exercises that I like from them.
Perhaps the warm-up doesn’t tell you the whole story of players’ profiles but for me, it is part of the jigsaw that makes up the picture of who they are.
All right, so watching Maradona doing keepy-ups whilst dancing along to ‘Life is Life’ by Opus might be utterly majestic but that’s Maradona.
And Pirlo is Pirlo. Perhaps I can forgive him for that. Unless we can get him to sign for Lincoln City, that is. Then something’s going to have to give.