ROME (AFP, REUTERS) – As a player, Andrea Pirlo was a genius on the ball. But as a coach, the former Italy and Juventus star remains an unknown entity.
The “Maestro turned Mister” starts his reign on the Juve bench against Sampdoria on Saturday (Sept 19), in a debut season expected to reap a 10th consecutive Italian Serie A title and a first Champions League in 25 years.
He is expected to do all this while establishing a more attractive, fluid style of football deemed to be lacking under predecessors Massimiliano Allegri and Maurizio Sarri.
High expectations for a 41-year-old novice, who received his professional coaching licence only on Wednesday.
“It’s Juve, it’s normal to have to win. It was the case as a player, it will also be as a coach,” he said.
Juve hope Pirlo, who won a World Cup, two Champions League and six Italian league titles, can transmit his winning mentality to the team.
“The idea of the game, he has it, clearly. But now he will have to be able to transmit it to a group,” said former Italy teammate Fabio Cannavaro, now manager of Chinese side Guangzhou Evergrande.
Pirlo’s first weeks as a coach were devoted to dialogue with senior players, which was reported to have been lacking under Sarri, 61.
“He understands the mentality of the players. He knows Juventus very well,” said defender Danilo.
“He knows how to get his message across, talk to players one on one, to get the best out of them. He has applied good tactical ideas and is clear on how he wants his team to play.”
However, there are doubts over Juve, how they staggered over the finish line last season – winning only two of their last eight matches – and their dependence on the 35-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo.
Inter Milan, who finished one point behind Juve in second place, appear to be the closest challengers as Antonio Conte begins his second season as their coach.
He led Juve to the first three of their current run of nine league crowns starting in 2012 before moving on to coach Italy and Chelsea, taking over Inter in May last year.
The fiery Italian looked poised to leave after Inter’s Europa League final loss to Sevilla, following a dramatic outburst at a lack of support from team management.
But clear-the-air talks persuaded him the club’s Chinese owners shared his burning ambitions to lift a first Serie A title since 2010.
Neighbours AC Milan are equally intriguing. After years of mid-table mediocrity, they came to life in the second half of last season and were unbeaten in their last 13 games.
Atalanta, meanwhile, blasted 98 goals on their way to finishing third.
Similarly, Lazio were outstanding for part of last season. Their small squad struggled with the heavy fixture list after the Covid-19 break but they still finished fourth, as Ciro Immobile equalled the scoring record for a single season with 36 goals.
Lazio’s neighbours AS Roma also finished strongly in fifth.
Napoli overcame a mid-season crisis and finished with a trophy after winning the Italian Cup. With the feisty Gennaro Gattuso at the helm, they cannot be written off.