Vieira says Andrea Pirlo remains valuable despite zero assists in 2017

Andrea Pirlo, NYCFC, vs. DC United

PURCHASE, N.Y.—Andrea Pirlo ranks among the game's all-time greats, but full matches have been harder to come by of late for the Italian maestro.

Pirlo has only played the entire 90 minutes twice this season and he has been substituted in each of the last four matches. In Sunday's 2-1 loss to Orlando City SC, Pirlo left the field in the 56th minute, the earliest the 37-year-old has been replaced since joining New York City FC in July 2015.

Following Wednesday’s training session, Pirlo said he has no issues with the decisions NYCFC coach Patrick Vieira has made.

“I am here to play, but I don’t decide,” Pirlo said. “There is a coach who decides and its no problem for me. When he decides I play, I play. When he decides I don’t play, I go out, but I am one of the 18 players and I am the same as the others.”

Pirlo’s early-season form is a subject of great debate, with ESPN FC calling him a “luxury player,” because of his defensive shortcomings. A year ago, Pirlo was among the league leaders with 11 assists, but he has no points through seven matches in 2017.

“I am playing normal, some games good, some games normal,” Pirlo said. “It is important I feel good. The rest of the season will be much better.”

Vieira has defended his Designated Player at every asking. The same was true on Wednesday, when Vieira suggested the assessment of Pirlo by some in the media hasn’t been fair.

“I don’t want to criticize the media because they’re talking about what they see and what they know, but they don’t know everything,” Vieira said. “I’ve seen Andrea every single day and I’ve seen how he works in training and that’s why I don’t have any doubt about who he is as a player and as a person.

“I think we can all give our opinions, but I think we can do it with more respect, with more respect about what he achieved in the game,” he added. “We can all have a different opinion, but I think we can do better.”

Vieira said Pirlo’s role on his team is akin to an electrician.

“I always say he is the one who switches the lights in our game,” Vieira said. “It’s like you’re in a dark room, and Andrea switches the light on, and our game starts to breathe and becomes a little bit more clear. This is what he brings us.”

While Pirlo hasn’t delivered that killer ball to lead to a goal this season, Vieira said the combination of Pirlo, Alexander Ring and Maxi Moralez in the midfield have done well to complement each other.

“Of course, I don’t expect Andrea to run like Alex Ring and I don’t expect Alex Ring to play like Andrea because they are different,” Vieira said. “I think the relationship between the three in the midfield is really good because they are all different.”

While Pirlo publically supports his coach’s decisions, Vieira said he completely understands if Pirlo isn’t happy with his new role. But he also lauds Pirlo for being a team player by accepting that role.

“For them to get frustrated, I fully understand that,” Vieira said. “Because I have respect for them, I have a conversation with them and this is the way it is. I’ve been in that situation and it’s not easy. I have massive respect for Andrea, for David [Villa], for Maxi. It will happen during the game that I will change David, Andrea or Maxi and they will get frustrated because it’s normal. But look at the answer he gives you, it shows how he is a person and a player.”