After weeks of rumor, speculation and some pretty sweet sightings in the wild, Andrea Pirlo is here. The Italian legend signed with New York City FC on Monday, joining David Villa and Frank Lampard as the team's Designated Players.
Pirlo brings a rare combination of awe-inspiring class and sublime skill to the team’s midfield – and another layer of megawatt star power.
His arrival is, put simply, a big deal – and here are five essential reasons you should care.
HE’S AN ITALIAN SOCCER LEGEND.
Let’s start with the fact that Pirlo started his pro career at the tender age of 16, playing his first six seasons with first-division Italian teams Brescia, Reggina and Inter Milan.
By the time he signed with European powers AC Milan in June 2001 at 22 years old, he was essentially a seasoned vet. He spent 10 seasons with the Rossoneri, winning two Serie A titles to go along with two UEFA Champions League trophies.
Then, prior to the 2011-12 season, Pirlo moved on to Juventus, bringing along his Midas touch. He led that team to the Serie A championship in each of his four seasons and helped them get to the UEFA Champions League final this past season.
HE'S A WORLD CUP WINNER.
Pirlo's exploits at the club level are impressive in their own right, but he's added to those accomplishments with the Italian national team. He’s played 115 games for the Azzurri, the fourth most appearances in that country's history, and that includes two games last month.
He’s also won the ultimate prize. Pirlo started all six games at the 2006 World Cup, helping Italy take home the trophy for the first time since 1982. In the process, he also won the Bronze Ball, given to the player judged to be third best in the entire tournament.
Outside of the World Cup, he’s taken the Italian national team close to other major titles. Pirlo led Italy to the finals of Euro 2012 and the semifinals of the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup, which featured some of the best teams from across the globe.
HE'S A SAVAGE OVER A DEAD BALL.
If you’re a player on a team squaring off against Pirlo, there's basically one thing you don't want to do: give him a chance at a set piece within 35 yards of goal. Whether he's curling in a cross or lining up a shooting opportunity from just outside the box, the 36-year-old can place the ball wherever he wants.
No joke: He is the most feared set-piece taker in the world today:
HE’S THE MOST PRECISE PASSER IN THE WORLD.
We already told you about Pirlo’s abilities over a dead ball, but then there’s his passing. His vision and skill at locating his teammates on the field is pretty much unmatched. And he has the GIFs and YouTube clips to prove it.
In fact, his philosophy on passing is best summed up in this incredible except from his recent autobiography, I Think, Therefore I Play:
“A midfielder constantly on the lookout for an unspoiled corner where I can move freely for just a moment,” he writes in the book. “A space where I can continue to profess my creed: take the ball, give it to a teammate, teammate scores. It's called an assist, and it's my way of spreading happiness.”
Here's just one of his many, many instances of that happiness-spreading:
HE BOASTS AN EPIC CULT FOLLOWING.
Sure, Pirlo’s a great soccer player, but his persona and aura are what draw in the fans. Where do we even start? His movements are suave, his facial expression is stoic and he grows an epic, majestic beard. That style, his swagger and the fact that he owns his own vineyard have some calling him "The Most Interesting Man in the World."
Even players who have played against him act like fanboys in his orbit.