Andrea Pirlo has honored the UEFA Champions League as a player for more than a decade, winning the title twice, and the route has made even the most ardent fans of football mutter silently.
This season, the 41-year-old has returned as coach, leading a Juventus team with several former teammates. UEFA.com's Paolo Menicucci had his thoughts on UEFA.com's Paolo Menicucci ahead of Tuesday's Group G opening against the Dynamo Kiev side led by Mircea Lucescu, who gave Pirlo his 16-year-old debut.
What's it like coaching players like Gianluigi Buffon, Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci, who have been by your side through all the battles on the field?
This is great! They are really accommodating. Maybe it wasn't easy for them at first, but within a few hours they realized that my role was different from a few days ago. Their attitudes changed quickly and easily. They called me 'gaffer' right away, perhaps with a smile at first, but then they got used to it.
They can help me a lot because they know what it's like to play for Juve. They know what it means to win. Like all the years we've played together, they know what it's like to work with me. They know the spirit I want to bring to this team, so they will be very helpful this season.
As a player, you were famous for your calmness on the ball. Can we expect the same approach in the bunker?
The bunker is definitely more stressful. I decided what I was doing with the ball on the field; I can handle it from the bunker, but others interpret their roles, so it's a bit more difficult as a coach. I had a certain style of playing where I could be involved and be determined. Now I have to do this from the touchline.
You've been compared to [Pep] Guardiola for both the position you play and your quickness to coach a big club. Do you see him as a role model?
Guardiola is an example to all of us. He is one of the best. He set an example to follow for young coaches who want to support a certain type of offensive football. We all have our own ideas and we need to take them forward, but he is definitely a role model for the entire football movement. I like his style of play: always on the attack and directing the game, always being able to handle situations. That should be our aim in the future.
Which of your coaches inspired you the most?
I had the chance to work with great coaches. From one of my firsts in Brescia, Lucescu – he was a chef – to [Marcello] Lippi, [Carlo] Ancelotti, [Antonio] Conte and [Massimiliano] Allegri. I've had the chance to work with some of the best coaches in the world and I'm happy to have the chance to work with them. I will try to get something from each of them.
As a player you played against Cristiano Ronaldo many times and beat him 3-0 in a famous match against AC Milan, perhaps one of your best performances. Have you ever thought about coaching him?
No, I never dreamed of it but I am happy to have this icon of world football, having him at my command, seeing his training and playing. It is a great pleasure for me, for the whole team. He is now working as he did as a 35-year-old young man, with the same passion for playing football every day. He is an example to all of us.
How special is the Champions League to you?
The Champions League is the dream of everyone who plays football, it creates a strong feeling from the moment you hear the music. I've had the chance to play in four finals and win two, so I know what it means to win and lose this title. You don't have to lose, you just have to win; Losing hurts, winning is absolutely great.
How far can Juve go this year?
Champions League is very tough. It depends on the little moments. The most difficult period is March, when some teams (after the winter break) can't get things back to pace, while others are already in form. Sometimes you just need a little luck, maybe a more suitable draw.