Juventus took a step closer to the Champions League final yesterday with a resounding 2-1 win at home against Real Madrid. The journeyman Carlos Tevez was impressive, as he has consistently been for Juve this season, but it is Andrea Pirlo who has been the topic of transfer interest in recent days.
Pirlo has been the stalwart of Juve's midfield since moving there in 2011 on a free transfer that even Gianluigi Buffon described as an act of God. The move drew a lot of surprise in Milan too, not far from his original home in Lombardy.
You could forgive AC Milan though - they were allowing a 32-year-old midfielder walk out at the end of his contract and his career. Two years later though, Bloomberg named him as the fifth best player in Europe, and Pirlo went on to look like one of the only strong points of a poor Italian World Cup team - eight years after he won the trophy in Germany 2006.
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But as he is on the cusp of reaching the Champions League final, and notably his 36th birthday to boot, his retirement seems far from the talking point.
Having returned to international duty after his phony retirement after that poor World Cup, Pirlo has looked completely at home as the midfield maestro in Turin. And this week he stated he would walk from Juve if they did win the top prize in European Football this year.
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Won't play for another team in Italy
That may yet be an optimistic goal, but Pirlo himself is still possibly the target for many managers across Europe. And it was England that seems to have been listening the keenest when Pirlo said 'I won’t stop playing, I’ll go on as long as I have the same great desire to keep training every day.'
He told the AS ‘I wouldn’t go to another Italian team. Juventus will be my last Serie A team, whatever happens.'
Of all the clubs of note who would be keen on signing the Italian veteran, Chelsea are apparently topping the list on what could be an interesting pay day for the player. Surprising, maybe, but there has been lots of precedence that make it sound plausible, even very familiar.
Italian transfers in the Premier League
Chelsea have quite a history of signing elder statesmen from Italy, which goes back to the mid 90s. While Di Matteo - who went on to win the Champions League as stand-in Chelsea coach in 2012 - had signed at the age of 26, in the same year - 1996 - the Blues signed both Gianfranco Zola and Italian legend Gianluigi Vialli.
A year earlier Ruud Gullit had signed from Sampdoria. Even the Argentinian Hernan Crespo, signed from Inter, was still on the West London club's books until he was 33.
A lot of these players have gone on to become legends at Stanford Bridge, and even moved into coaching and management at the club afterwards. Since the Abramovic era, it has also become a lucrative stepping stone for players before making a move to America or Asia - see Didier Drogba or Nicolas Anelka.
While a 36 year old free transfer might not sound the kind of addition Mourinho would be likely to make - he let Frank Lampard go at the same age before that player went on to play for rivals Man City on loan - there's clearly something different about this particular midfield talisman.
Pirlo has played consistently for club and country since 2001, and while his game does not appear to rely on speed, his intuitive capacity for the mental side of the game ranks him still to this day as one of the most influential players in the Champions League. And perhaps stepping away from the international game, if he could be persuaded to do so, might extend his career even longer.
Usually outfield players cannot be likened to goalkeepers, so it would be unwise to relate his story to that of current team-mate Buffon (still looking solid at 37 years old). But there is plenty of history that suggests a move could work.
This year in fact, Esteban Cambiasso - who won the Champions League under Mourinho in 2010 with Inter - has proved that they can shine even at a relegation-threatened side.
The Argentinian defensive midfielder, 34, has been one of the main influencing factors in keeping Leicester with one foot in safety, showcasing intellectual play, incredible passing skills and foresight to read play better than those around him and opposite him in the Premier League. He has even managed to get four goals this season in what some call the best league in the world.
Exceeding at the highest level
While Cambiasso signing on a free transfer had a lot of people suggesting he was way past his Internazionale prime - he was keen to experience play in the Premiership before retirement - on current evidence Andrea Pirlo appears to still be exceeding at the highest level.
And, with a big presence still being felt in the Champions League, this suggests he would have no problem adapting to the Premier League while at one of the top clubs - even Chelsea.
While off the pitch he could also bring added value as a flag-bearer for those younger players in need of mentoring, and if a move does happen Pirlo's presence in a squad could therefore have a lasting impact on a club too. That's the power of Pirlo.
Where he goes, when he goes, is just a matter of time. But compared to, for example, almost laughable 1998 rumours of Roberto Baggio going to London rivals Arsenal, a move for this modern day Italian legend to the Premiership, and even to Chelsea, feels like it could be a real possibility this summer.
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