The Run of Play is a blog about
the wonder and terror of soccer.

We left the window open during a match in October 2007 and a strange wind blew into the room.

Now we walk the forgotten byways of football with a lonely tread, searching for the beautiful, the bewildering, the haunting, and the absurd.

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The Tuesday Portrait: Andrea Pirlo

I’ve never seen a highlight video about Andrea Pirlo that didn’t feel wrong somehow. Mostly compilations of free kicks and penalties, mostly set to soundtracks that suggest a lack of confidence in the compiler (“Kiss from a Rose”? Really?), they seem to present not so much Pirlo as the environment of a football match, a busy green day in which players look on, a crowd cheers, the goalkeeper points and shouts, and then, from somewhere—from someone who never quite caught your eye—the ball springs up, does a neat half-corkscrew, and lightly drops into the net. Then the crowd surges to its feet, a roar fills the stadium, and the players rush around someone—only it’s hard to make him out. Maybe a hint of crooked nose, maybe a wisp of feathery hair.

Pirlo takes a free kick.

Andrea Pirlo might be the only player in football whose presence negates the idea of the highlight clip. He’s so subtle, so finely tuned, that he seems to become more invisible the more brilliantly he plays, as though football for him were the equivalent of keeping a secret. He moves through the match like the eye of the storm, like a center of low pressure, and is to the complex automation of other footballers like a machine with no moving parts. And his genius for remoteness is such that it turns a highlight reel into nothing more than another bit of noise for him to slip through. Pirlo makes glory look crude.

To capture him, really to capture the way he plays, the camera would have to follow him without the ball, with the ball not even in the frame. It would have to show the way he drifts and watches, judges and glides, the way he moves as if movement were thinking. If would have to show the angles as the angles appeared to him, and to him alone of everyone watching the match. It would have to show openings three seconds, four seconds, before they opened. And then, perhaps, as he backed into a defender and slipped free, the ball could roll into the picture, and he could pause over it, hover for a beat, and make the astonishing pass while all eyes in the stadium were turned toward the run of the striker.

The camera wouldn’t need to show the goal. By the time he made the pass, the goal would already have happened. It would just be a few more seconds before anyone else could see it.

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The Tuesday Portrait: Andrea Pirlo

by Brian Phillips · November 27, 2007

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