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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Book Review: "I Think Therefore I Play" by Andrea Pirlo with Alessandro Alciato

Image credit: BackPagePress Ltd. and
Vivien Lavau.
 Please click on the image to learn more
 about this book at Amazon.co.uk.






















Please note:

This English translation will be released on 15 April 2014 by BackPagePress Limited (@BackPagePress) in the UK. It was expertly translated by Mark Palmer. You can pre-order the book at Amazon UK or Amazon.com (paperback and Kindle editions) now. E-book versions will also be available in the following formats: Apple, Kobo and Nook, respectively, according to a representative of the publisher.

"Andrea Pirlo is a player who belongs to everyone. Guys like him should be a protected species... Pirlo brings people together because he is football... He's the essence of the game.

I got to know a fantastic man, Gaetano Scirea. It's uncanny how closely Andrea resembles him. Their way of conducting themselves is identical. On rare occasions when these silent leaders choose to say something, the rest of the dressing room shuts up and listens."

Translations of Cesare Prandelli: Manager of Italy (Gli Azzurri)
Cesare Prandelli.
Photo credit: Илья Хохлов.


















--- Cesare Prandelli, "I Think Therefore I Play", by Andrea Pirlo with Alessandro Alciato, translated from the Italian by Mark Palmer, and published by BackPagePress Limited with a list price of £ 9.99 and $11.93, respectively. (Pages v to viii).

The fact that Pirlo's national team boss, Cesare Prandelli, wrote the introduction for his book spoke volumes. To be compared to an iconic Italian legend such as Gaetano Scirea was the icing on the cake. We have watched the skills of Pirlo for many years both at club and country. His stellar performances at the Euro 2012 tournament, along with his key role in Italy's 2006 World Cup victory, made global headlines.

"Stai calmo e passala a Pirlo" (Stay calm and pass it to Pirlo) became a cult saying and a tee-shirt. Pirlo was there, designed the tee-shirt and everyone else enjoyed his sublime skills. Well, perhaps not Joe Hart of England, but that is a discussion for another time.

Pirlo, as Mr. Prandelli noted, is a silent leader. We rarely have heard him give detailed interviews although since his arrival at Juventus, Pirlo has made a concerted effort to be more available to the press. This book perhaps is an extension of that decision to be more forthcoming in public. His title was well-chosen: This is a welcome, thoughtful look, into one of the most cerebral and visionary footballers of the modern era.

Organized Format with a Stellar Translation



There are twenty chapters, a detailed, reader-friendly index along with a section dedicated to pictures from Pirlo's personal life and playing career. The book starts with a 2011 discussion between Pirlo and Adriano Galliani where the Milan supremo tells Pirlo not to use a Milan-inscribed pen to sign his Juventus contract. It ends with Pirlo looking at his watch that ironically reads, "21:21" (9:21 p.m.).

I also liked that the translator decided to use copious amounts of footnotes to explain subtleties that might be lost on a non-Italian audience. For example, "Grazie Roma by Antonello Venditti was a big hit in the wake of the club's 1983 scudetto win and is still sung by fans today." (Page 22, footnote 9). Or "Silvio Berlusconi is known as presidente operaio, a reference to his pride in being a self-made man." (Page 136, footnote 54).

This book was a brilliantly executed and flawless translation that transmitted the Italian source text seamlessly into English. I read the original Italian version last year and was very impressed how smoothly Pirlo sounded in English. His wit, irony, touches of arrogance, poetic license, crudeness and humor were all captured. The Italians have a saying, 'The translator is a traitor." That was not the case here and you will read Pirlo as if he spoke English fluently.

Let's now see what happens between the opening and closing whistles.

Writing Style and Content

Andrea Pirlo Juventus.jpg
Andrea Pirlo in action with Juventus.
Photo credit: Валерий Дудуш



















The co-authors' writing style (I'll assume it is mostly the narrative voice of Pirlo), is engaging, informative, humorous and detailed. You will see the normally taciturn, at least in public, Pirlo, shed his usual modest demeanor. He has a biting wit and at times, takes a few shots at people in Italian football with the same accuracy as his patented passes and free kicks.

For example, this barb at Juventus and Azzurri legend, Marco Tardelli, who first managed Pirlo for the Italy U-21 and later at Internazionale:

"We won the European Championship (U-21) together, but perhaps he didn't recognize me. Whatever the explanation, he never picked me and it really got me down. I lost count of the number of times I wanted to say to him, 'you know where you can stick that roar that made you famous' but, being a well-mannered person, I always stopped myself in time." (Pages 64-65)

This anecdote with Adriano Galliani detailed the time when Pirlo was ready to sign for Real Madrid while still at AC Milan. It clearly displayed his humor, use of irony and wit:

" 'Andrea, my friend, you're not going anywhere.' 

He pulled out a little case from under the table. That made me smile, thinking it had been just as well hidden as Monica Lewinsky under Bill Clinton's desk in the Oval Office (every now and again I'm carried away by these crazy trains of thought). 

A contract then appeared from the case, with Mr. Bic (Galliani) adding, 'You're not leaving, because you're going to sign this. It's for five years, and we've left the salary details blank so you can write in whatever you like.' " (Pages 20-21).

Displays of Arrogance and Unsurprising Bitterness over Milan Exit

At times, arrogance leaks through Pirlo's narrative in a subtle, and not so subtle, fashion. He didn't like that Milan was ready to place him on the "scrap heap" and make the midfield maestro an afterthought instead of the fulcrum of the team he helped to define for nearly a decade. Pirlo took it very personally which might explain his decision to transfer to Milan's arch rivals, Juventus.

Ironically and interestingly, Pirlo's narrative seems to give more importance to his two years at the Old Lady than the previous 10 at Milan. For example, he had specific chapters about Andrea Agnelli and Antonio Conte, respectively, from Juventus. Not that he diminished his stellar years with Milan; however, that experience comes off as nine splendid seasons and one to be forgotten which hastened his departure.

" 'Andrea, our coach Massimiliano Allegri reckons that if you stay, you won't be able to play in front of the defense. He's got a different role in mind for you. Still in midfield, but on the left.'

One small detail: I still thought I could give of my best playing in front of the defense. If the sea's deep, a fish can breathe... 'Thanks, but I really can't accept. There's a three-year deal on the table at Juventus.'

'For goodness' sake, don't use it (a Milan-inscribed pen) to sign for Juventus..Thanks for everything, Andrea.' "  (Pages 2-3)

Pirlo also included several conversations, some verbatim, that he had with fellow players and coaches over the years. It is rare for a famous Italian player, and perhaps other well-known athletes, to share such things outside of the sacred confines of the changing room. Some who read these dialogues (along with other personal details about players/coaches) may not like them. Whether the principals in these conversations gave permission to disclose such conversations was not provided. Pirlo has a very precise memory and his detail in this area was significant.

Early Years Not Fully Detailed

I thought his choice, along with the journalist co-author who agreed, to begin the book with an ill-fated farewell meeting with Adriano Galliani was surprising. Perhaps it was done for shock value to grab your attention. You may ask, as I did, why would they start an autobiography there and not from a more positive point in his life? Pirlo did not include much information about his childhood or adolescence. That was one area where readers might yearn for more details to better understand environments that produced the player and the man.

Here were a few insights into his early years:

"From a young age, I knew I was a better player than the others, and for that very reason tongues were soon wagging. 'Who does that kid think he is? Maradona?' That's the line they used most often. Spurred on by their jealousy, they'd say it deliberately loudly, trying to provoke a reaction. They didn't realize they were actually paying me the biggest compliment. Maradona, for fuck's sake!" (Page 8)

"I was 14 and playing for the Brescia youths. I say playing for them, but in actual fact they were playing against me. 'Pass me the ball.' Silence. Strange: I'd shouted it loudly, and my Italian was pretty good. 'Guys, pass me the ball.' Still nothing. A silence so deafening that I could hear my words echoing around.... They were treating me like some kind of leper, just because I was better than them at football." (Page 9)

Pictures




A brief 2013 interview with English subtitles.

There was an assortment of pictures from his early life through his playing career. One of my favorites was Pirlo and Alessandro Nesta, and was captioned, "Friend, brother, teammate, roomie." 


Other Notable Quotes



Image credit:
360 Network.













On his 2006 World Cup final penalty kick against Fabian Barthez of France:

"You won't believe me, but it was right in that very moment I understood what a great thing it is to be Italian. It's truly a priceless privilege." (Page 34)

On Antonio Conte:

"I consider myself particularly fortunate: I know Antonio Conte. I've worked with a lot of coaches in my time, and he's the one who surprised me the most. One little speech, a few simple words, was all it took to win me over.... Conte was like a man possessed, the very essence of Juventus burned deep into his soul." (Pages 53-54)

On leaving Internazionale and Marcello Lippi:

"Had Lippi (Marcello) been in charge, I'd stayed at Inter for life." (Page 62)

On Sepp Blatter's famous snub of Italy in Berlin at World Cup 2006:

"I could hear Sepp Blatter rambling on in the distance. The same guy whose self-evident dislike for Italy had led him to delegate what he considered the horrible task of presenting us with the World Cup in 2006." (Page 71)

On Carlo Ancelotti:

"Carlo was like a father and a teacher for me, a kind, friendly man who knew how to make things fun. I'd spent the best years of my career with him. If you're a player who wants to get on and give everything, you won't find anyone better than him." (Page 76)

On the scene after the 2005 Champions League final loss to Liverpool on penalties after Milan was ahead, 3-0, at the half-time break:

"When that torture of a game was finished, we sat like a bunch of half-wits in the dressing room there at the Ataturk Stadium. We were bloodthirsty zombies faced with an unforeseen problem --- the blood was ours and they'd drunk every last drop. We couldn't speak. We couldn't move. They'd mentally destroyed us." (Page 84)

On Andrea Agnelli:

"His uncle was known as the avvocato, his father was the dottore, and he's plain old Andrea. A simple title for a special man who's cut from the same cloth as all the other Agnelli. Lamb by name, lion by nature and never, ever caged. Always free to mingle with the common man." (Page 99)

On his patented free kicks:

"I'm Italian, but I'm also part-Brazilian. Pirlinho, if you like. When I take free kicks, I think in Portuguese and at most I'll do the celebrating in my native tongue." (Page 115)

On his dislike of pregame warm-ups:

"I hate the warm-up so much I need to do something to avoid getting depressed... Maybe it's a phobia. But the way I see it, I'm simply reacting to an injustice being inflicted on beauty. If you've got Bar Refaeli lying naked in front of you, you can't just wink at her and say: 'Wait there, I'll be with you in 15 minutes.' " (Pages 120-121)


An Accurate Title that Reflected the Protagonist

This book's title brilliantly reflected its superb content along with its protagonist. Pirlo is a thinking-man's player par excellence with uncommon vision and accuracy on the pitch. He also demonstrated his literary and observation skills off of the pitch in this intriguing, provocative and beautifully written book.

"Stay calm and pass it to Pirlo".

Please Note

I have received a complimentary review copy from a representative of the publisher, BackPage Press Limited. I was not financially compensated by the co-authors, publisher, translator or any party who would benefit from a positive review.


About the Co-Author

Alessandro Alciato, who is a respected author and Italian journalist with Sky Sport, also co-authored Carlo Ancelotti's excellent autobiography, "The Beautiful Games of an Ordinary Genius." (Originally known as "Preferisco La Coppa" in Italian.)

Related Articles


Steve Amoia is a freelance writer and translator from Washington, D.C. He is the publisher of World Football Commentaries since 2006 and The Soccer Translator since 2008. 

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