José Mourinho began his football management career as an interpreter and translator for Sir Bobby Robson in Portugal (Sporting Clube and Porto) and Spain (FC Barcelona).

03 June 2013

Book Review: "Penso Quindi Gioco" by Andrea Pirlo with Alessandro Alciato

Photo credit: Mondadori Editore.

Update: 10 March 2014

Image credit: BackPagePress and Please click on the
image to learn more about this book.
The English translation of this book will be released on 15 April 2014 by BackPagePress in the UK. It was expertly translated by Mark Palmer. You can pre-order the book at Amazon UK (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.

"Alla fine delle partite dell'Italia fuori dallo spogliatoio c'e' la fila degli avversari che vogliono scambiare le proprie maglie con la sua. Piace anche a loro. Il vero fatto straordinario e' che Andrea e' un leader silenzioso e nel mondo del calcio non e' facile trovarene. Prima di diventare allenatore, nella mia carriera da calciatore, ho conosciuto un personaggio meraviglioso, Gaetano Scirea, e Pirlo me lo ricorda in maniera incredibile: gli assomiglia, il loro modo di essere e' indentico, e davanti questi leader silenziosi -- le rare volte in cui decidono di intervenire nello spogliatoio per dire qualcosa -- si zittiscono tutti."

"At the end of Italy's games outside of the changing room, there is a line of opponents who want to exchange their own shirts with his. Even they like him. The real extraordinary fact is that Andrea is a silent leader and in the soccer world, that's not easy to find. 

Before I became a coach, in my playing career, I knew a marvelous person, Gaetano Scirea, and Pirlo reminds me of him in an incredible way. He resembles him, their way of being is identical, and in front of these silent leaders -- the rare times when they decide to intervene in the changing room to say something -- everyone becomes silent."

--- Cesare Prandelli, current manager of the Azzurri, on page 6.

Andrea Pirlo and Alessandro Alciato have just penned the Juventus and Azzurri star's autobiography, "Penso Quindi Gioco" (I Think Therefore I Play) at Mondadori. Mr. Alciato, who is a respected Italian author and 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.)

The fact that Pirlo's national team boss, Cesare Prandelli, wrote the forward 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 last summer's 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, bought 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, was 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. His title was well-chosen: This is a welcome, thoughtful look, into one of the most cerebral and visionary footballers of the modern era.

Surprising Editorial Format: No Table of Contents or Index

There are 20 chapters (one less than Pirlo's iconic shirt number), no table of contents, nor any index. The latter two choices were surprising and not helpful to the reader. The co-authors do show an extensive A to Z list of names on the back cover; however, you can't find anything by page number or chapter title inside of the book. There is no organized structure to orient the reader with the excellent content.

Since most readers of sports biographies look for targeted information (for example in this case, his Milan years, Azzurri tenure, Istanbul 2005, and now his time with Juventus), they may struggle to find it quickly. You also have to read the entire book to learn that this was not an autobiography. I kept anticipating to read about Pirlo's childhood and formative years in world football. With rare exception, both were not recounted in much detail. The co-authors skip around and the book does not have a purely chronological nature.

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.). Two chapters in between were dedicated solely to Andrea Agnelli and Alessandro Del Piero, respectively.

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

Engaging, Ironic and Witty Writing Style

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

The co-authors' writing style (and I'll assume that 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:

"Forse non mi ha riconosciuto, fatto sia che non mi ha mai fatto giocare. Stavo male, soffrivo. Quante volte avrei voluto dirgli: 'Sai dove te lo puoi mettere quel'urlo che ti ha reso famoso?,' ma essendo una persona educata mi sono sempre fermato in tempo."

"Perhaps he didn't recognize me given that he never played me (at Inter). I was suffering and not feeling well. How many times did I want to tell him, 'Do you know where you can put that yell which made you famous?' but being an educated person, I always stopped myself in time." (Page 65)

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

" 'No, caro, tu non vai da nessuna parte.' Quindi ha tiraro fuori una valigetta da sotto il tavolo, facendomi sorridere perche' ho pensato che l'avesse nascosta tanto bene quanto lo era Monica Lewinsky sotto la scrivania di Bill Clinton nello Studio Ovale (ogni tanto vengo travolto da queste folli associazioni di idee). Dalla valigetta e' spuntato un contrato..."

" 'No, my dear, you aren't going anywhere.' Then he (Adriano Galliani) took out a leather envelope under the table, making me smile, because I thought that it was hidden as well as Monica Lewinsky was under Bill Clinton's desk in the Oval Office (every once in awhile these strange association of ideas come to me). Out came a contract from the leather envelope..." (Page 27)

Pirlo also displayed irony with regards to Pep Guardiola. He mentioned how Guardiola was his preferred manager on PlayStation. Then he described a real-life meeting with the FC Barcelona manager:

" 'Grazie per aver accetato di incontrarmi.' 'Grazie per avermelo proposto.' 'Da queste parte abbiamo bisogno di te.'

Ecco, c'e' da dire che i giri di parole non facevano parte del suo repertorio. Dopo un paio di minuti era gia' arrivato al dunque. Da calciatore impostava il gioco, da allenatore aveva imparato ad attacare. Sempre con estremo stile.

'Siamo fortissimi, di meglio no potrei chiedere, pero' tu saresti la ciliegina...' "

" 'Thank you for agreeing to meet with me.' 'Thank you for having suggested it.' 'Around here we need you.' 

Well, it's said that mincing words were not a part of his repertory. After a few minutes, he had already arrived at the point. As a footballer, he imposed his play. As a manager, he learned how to attack. Always with extreme style.

'We are very strong. I couldn't ask for any better. But you would be the cherry on top of the cake.' " (Page 32)

Surprising Arrogance and Unsurprising Bitterness over Milan Exit

At times, arrogance comes through Pirlo's narrative in a subtle, and not so subtle, fashion. He didn't like that Milan was ready to put him on the "scrap heap" and make the midfield maestro an afterthought instead of the fulcrum of the team he helped to define for a decade. He 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 with his two years at the Old Lady than his previous 10 at Milan. Not that he diminishes his stellar years with Milan; however, the experience comes off as nine splendid seasons and one to be forgotten that hastened his departure.

Pirlo also included several conversations, some verbatim, that he had with others over the years. It is rare for an Italian player to share such things and some who read these dialogues (along with other personal details about players/coaches) may not like them. Pirlo has a very precise memory and his detail in this area was significant.

I thought his choice to begin the book with an ill-fated farewell meeting with Adriano Galliani was intriguing. Pirlo portrays Galliani as a cross between Don Corleone, Donald Trump and Don Draper. And that was the positive reference. (I have translated passages of that conversation in Part I of his excerpts from April 2013.) You may ask, as I did, why would he start an autobiography there and not from a more positive point in his life? These early quotes may explain his decision:

"Fin da piccolo sapevo di essere piu' forte degli altri, e per questo hanno iniziato presto parlare tutti di me. Troppo. E non necessariamente bene, tanto che mio padre Luigi piu' di una volta ha abbandonato la tribuna  da cui mi stava guardano per fuggire dall'altra del campo, da solo, per non sentire i commenti cattivi degli altri genitori...  'Ma quello chi si crede di essere, Maradona?' era la domanda retorica piu' utlizzata, la facevano ad alta voce e con l'interno provocare, spinti dall'invidia, senza sapere che in realta' mi stavano regalando il piu' grande dei complimenti....

'Passatemi la palla.' Silenzio... 'Ragazzi, passatemi la palla.' Altro silienzio... Il pallone non me lo passava nessuno... Mi escludevano come un lebbroso, solo perche' ero piu' bravo di loro."

"From the time I was young, I knew I was stronger than the others. And for this reason, they began to talk right away about me. Too much. And not necessarily good things such that my father, Luigi, more than once left the stands from where he was watching me and went off to the other side of the field, alone, so as not to hear the bad comments from the other parents. 

'But who do you think you are, (Diego) Maradona?' was the most-utilized rhetorical question. They said it loudly with the intent to provoke, spurned on by envy, without knowing that in reality, they were paying me the greatest of compliments...

'Pass me the ball.' Silence. 'Guys, pass it to me.' Another silence... Nobody passed the ball to me. They avoided me like a leper only because I was better than they." (Pages 18-19)


Andrea Pirlo at a recent book signing.
Photo credit: La Presse.

Pirlo included a wide-range of pictures from his personal life and playing career. My favorite was of him kissing the World Cup trophy in 2006.

Other Notable Quotes

" 'Non puo' piu' fare il Pirlo', per me, era un concetto duro ad accettare. Profondamente ingiusto, a pensarci bene. Mi creava un principio di mal di pancia, alla ricerca dello stimolo perduto. Mi sono subito confrontato con Alessandro Nesta, amico e fratello, compagno di squadra e di merende, di mille avventure, da sempre compagno di stanza... 'Sandrino, io me ne andrei.' Non si e' stupito: 'Mi dispiace tanto, pero' e' la scelta piu' giusta.' "

On Milan's collective opinion that his time was up:

" 'You can't be like Pirlo anymore', for me, was a tough concept to accept. Profoundly unjust to think long about it. It created the start of a stomach ache looking back at the lost stimulus. I quickly spoke with Alessandro Nesta, a friend and brother, teammate and dining companion, of a 1,000 adventures, who was always my roommate. 'Sandrino, I would like to leave.' It didn't startle him: 'I'm really sorry but it's the best choice.'(Page 14)

"A un certo punto ho iniziato ad avere il sospetto: forse John Lennon non era stato ucciso da Mark David Chapman, ma da qualche dirigente del Milan. Un puttanaio mai visto, non si capiva nulla, il vero destino del club non lo conosceva nessuno, tantomeno io, che pero' ero sicuro di una cosa: non mi sarei mai sceso in Serie B."

On Milan during Calciopoli:

"At a certain point, I began to have doubts: perhaps John Lennon wasn't murdered by Mark David Chapman, but by some director from AC Milan. It was a whorehouse never seen before, nobody understood anything, nobody knew the true destiny of the club, least of all I. But I was certain of one thing: I would never go down to Serie B." (Page 25)

Translator's Note:

Pirlo was referring to the 2006 Calciopoli scandal that engulfed Italian football. Juventus were relegated to Serie B but not Pirlo's Milan.

Photo credit: Mondadori Editore.

"Sembra incredible, ma esattamente in quell'instante ho capito quanto fosse bello essere italiano, un privilegio senza prezzo... Ho fatto gol... E' incredibile percepire che quello che provi tu attraversa milioni di persone, nello stesso modo, nello stesso attimo, per lo stesso motivo, in citta' diverse che magari fino a un minuto prima erano rivali o comunque troppo dissimili per trovare un solo punto di incontro."

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

"It seems incredible, but precisely at that instant, I understood how great it was to be Italian. A privilege without a price... I scored... It's incredible to perceive that what you attempt in front of millions of people, in the same way, in the same instant, for the same reason, in different cities that even up to a minute before were rivals or perhaps too unlike each other to find a single common point." (Page 39)

"Jose' Mourinho, alla sua prima conferenza stampa da allenatore dell'Inter, sorprese tutti presantandosi in perfetto italiano: 'Io non sono pirla'. Io invece si'. Pirla e Pirlo, femminile e maschile, giusto per non farmi mancare niente."

On a play of words on his surname:

"Jose' Mourinho at his presentation news conference as the manager of Internazionale, surprised everyone by saying in perfect Italian, 'I'm not a fool.' I, on the other hand, am. Pirla and Pirlo, feminine and masculine, just right for not making me miss a thing." (Page 49)

"Se fosse rimasto ad allenare l'Inter, probabilmente sarei diventato una bandiera di quella squadra. Un Beppe Bergomi con meno baffi, un Esteban Cambiasso con piu' capelli. La mia carriera avrebbe preso una direzione ben precisa. Con lui in panchina sarei rimasto a vita in quel club di cui ero tifoso da bambino."

On his strong feelings for Internazionale:

"If he (Marcello Lippi) would have stayed as manager at Internazionale,  I probably would have become a flag bearer of that team. A Giuseppe Bergomi with fewer moustache whiskers. An Esteban Cambiasso with more hair. My career would have taken a very different direction. With him on the bench, I would have remained at that club for life which I supported from childhood." (Page 63)

Translator's Note:

Giuseppe "Beppe" Bergomi was a former star player for Internazionale and won the World Cup with Italy in 1982 as an 18-year-old.

"L'unico punto di tristezza, quando ho lasciato l'Inter, e' stata provocata proprio dal distacco da lui. E' una bravissima persona, esattamente come si vede in televisione. Un padre di famiglia, un lord fuori contesto, un pezzo di pane in un mondo di squali. E poi e' tifoso, tifosissimo..."

On his affection and respect for Massimo Moratti:

"The only sad thing, when I left Internazionale, was provoked by the distance from him (Massimo Moratti). He is a great person who is exactly as you see him on TV. A head of a family, a Lord without reproach, a piece of bread in a world of the starving. And then he is a fan. A very passionate fan..."  (Page 66)

"Blatter, il presidente della Federazione internazionale del calcio, quello che nel 2006 si era rifiutato di consegnarci la Coppa del Mondo per conclamata antipatia verso l'Italia, delegano ad altri l'orribile -- dal suo punto di vista -- incombenza."

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

"(Sepp) Blatter, the FIFA president, who in 2006 refused to present the World Cup, due to proclaimed antipathy towards Italy, delegating the horrible, from his point of view, task." (Page 70)

"Una volta sceso a terra, parlava a tutta la squadra, ci caricava come delle molle (da questo punto di vista restera' sempre il piu' bravo di tutti, un Conte alla presidenza) a poi ci convocava a uno a uno dentro lo stanzino vicino agli spogliatoi, a pochi metri dal campo principale."

On Silvio Berlusconi's unique communication talents with his players:

"Once he (Silvio Berlusconi) was on the ground (from his helicopter), he spoke to the entire team, he encouraged us like no one else could (from this perspective he'll always be the best of all. An Antonio Conte in the president's chair) and then he called on us, one by one, in the little room next to the dressing room, a few meters from the main training field." (Page 78)

"Non parlavamo, non ci muovevamo, ci avevamo cancellati, annientati mentalmente. Il danno, gia' evidente in quei minuti, nelle ore successive e' apparso chiaro in tutta la sua gravita'. Insonnia, rabbia, depressione, senso di vuoto: avevamo inventato una nuova malattia dai sintomi multipli, la sindromre di Istanbul."

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:

"We didn't speak, we didn't move about, we were wiped out and annihilated mentally. The damage, which was already evident in those minutes, clearly appeared in all of its force in the following hours. Insomnia, anger, depression, a sense of emptiness. We had invented a new illness with multiple symptoms: Istanbul Syndrome." (Page 83)

"Ogni mancanza di rispetto verso la Juventus e' un pugno in faccia ad Andrea, che reagisce. Ruggisce. Si dimena e picchia, con parole che sono sentenze. Con la squadra e' un presidente dolcissimo, non alza mai la voce, nella buona e nella cattiva sorte, finche' morte non ci separi, perche' ci ha sposati, prima pensa a noi e poi a se stesso."

On Andrea Agnelli's relationship with his players:

"Every lack of respect against Juventus is a smack in Andrea's (Agnelli) face who reacts. He roars. He fights and hits back with words that are judgments. He is a very tender president with the team. He never raises his voice, in good and bad times, and up until death won't separate us. Because he is married to us. He thinks first of us and then of himself." (Page 95)

"Sono anche un po' brasiliano. Pirlinho. Quando calcio le punizioni penso in portoghese, poi al limite esulto in italiano. Le tiro alla Pirlo, sono palloni che viaggiano con l'effetto, racchiusi dentro una definizione che non mi dispiace, dentro una parabola quasi biblica. Portano il mio nome, come se fossero tutte figlie mie."

On his patented free kicks:

"I'm also a little Brazilian. Pirlinho. When I take set pieces, I think in Portuguese and in the end, celebrate in Italian. The Pirlo-style kicks are balls that travel with effect, enclosed within a definition that I don't like, inside of a bending effect that is almost biblical. They carry my name as if all of them were my children." (Page 106)

"La parte del mio lavoro che invece non imparero' mai ad amare e' il riscaldemento prima delle partite. Lo odio profondamente, con tutto me stesso. Mi fa schifo. E' una masterbazione per preparatori atletici, il loro modo di godere alla faccia nostra.... Quindici minuti sprecati, in cui spesso penso ad altro... Se hai Bar Refaeli nuda davanti a te, non puoi farle l'occhiolino e dirle: 'Resta li', ripasso tra un quarto d'ora...'"

On his hate of pregame warm-ups:

"The part of my work that I'll also never learn to love is the pregame warm-up. I hate it profoundly to my core. It disgusts me. It's a masturbation for athletic trainers/physios. It's their way to stick it in our faces.... Fifteen wasted minutes where often I am thinking about something else... 

If you have Bar Refaeli nude in front of you, you can't give her a wink and just say: 'Stay there. I'll be back in 15 minutes.' " (Page 110-111)

"Il 21 e' il giorno in cui e' nato mio padre, in cui mi sono sposato, in cui ho esordito in Serie A. E' diventato presto il mio numero di maglia e non l'ho piu' abbandonato. Mi porta fortuna, ecco il motivo per cui questo libro si ferma a venti capitoli. Mi piace pensare che il prossimo sia fatto solo di pagine bianche, da reimpire con altre emozioni, ancora da scrivere. La penna ce l'ho."

On why this book had 20 chapters:

"The 21st is my father's birthday, the day that I got married, the day I made my debut in Serie A. It quickly became my shirt number and I didn't let go of it anymore. It brought me luck. Here is the reason why this book stops after 20 chapters. I like to think that the next one is made only of blank pages, to be filled with other emotions, that is yet to write. I have the pen." (Page 137)

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 the ball to Pirlo".

My Ratings

Photo credit:
Content: 8/10
Organization: 5/10
Images: 7/10
Readability: 7.5/10
Writing Style: 8/10

Please Note

I did not receive a complimentary review copy from the publisher, Mondadori Editore. I was not compensated by the co-authors, publisher or any party who would benefit from a positive review.

If you decide to use any of my translated quotes from this book review, please credit @worldfootballcm and/or The Soccer Translator. Thank you for reading.

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 Steve Amoia is a freelance writer and translator from Washington, D.C. He is the publisher of World Football Commentaries and The Soccer Translator. You can follow Steve @worldfootballcm on Twitter.

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