Book: I Think Therefore I Play
Author: Andrea Pirlo (With Alessandro Alciato)
Publishers: Back Page Press Ltd
Price: Rs 1046
It begins and ends with a pen. On both pages, the first and the last, the pen in question is the same one, an expensive, heavy-to-hold Cartier with blue ink cartridges and an AC Milan crest etched on it. On the first leaf of the book, the pen sits on the first leaf of a contract. The contract is a three-year deal with Juventus for our author, Andrea Pirlo.
The Cartier is a gift to one of the great footballers of our times, from his club of 10 years. So the Italian midfielder doesn’t really tell you if he used its ink to divorce his decade-long (and largely happy) association with AC Milan. And neither does the pen flesh out the last chapter — left blank so it could be filled once his career ends with the FIFA World Cup in Brazil. Nevertheless, the pen is put to extraordinary use during the 148 pages in between. Better, perhaps, than a pen has been used by a footballer ever before.
Autobiographies by footballers, or sportspersons in general, are rarely considered worthy literature. They invariably do little for the reader apart from raking up a few controversies and feeding a few stereotypes, forcing you to sigh and assume that even the best athletes are nothing more than a sum of their high-incomes and low-IQs. Most unpardonably, these sportsmen with limited vocabularies find it ever so hard to articulate their art, despite having a ghost-writer at their disposal.
This is precisely where Pirlo, a man rather used to leaving clutters behind when taking his fascinating free-kicks, scores and scores big with his aptly titled autobiography, I Think Therefore I Play. Along with his co-author Alessandro Alciato (whose success with the Italian version forced an English translation), Pirlo weaves a silken tale with plenty of finesse and devoid of sleaze. Come to think of it, that pen in his hand is nearly as good as the ball at his feet.
He takes you on a journey, through his tormented days as a child prodigy growing up in Brescia. A time when his peers would misunderstand his love for the ball and treat him like a leper, an outcast. “Who does the kid think he is? Maradona?” they would ask. You chuckle with him now when he writes: “They didn’t seem to realise that they were actually paying me the biggest compliment. Maradona, for fuck’s sake!”
You walk those daunting few metres by his side in Berlin as he makes his way from the centre-line to the penalty spot, during the shoot-outs against France to decide the 2006 World Cup. “Being first on the spot, kicking off that torture, means they (Italy) think you’re the best,” he says. “But it also means if you miss, you’re first on the list of dickheads.”
The fear of missing on the grandest stage of them all is of course an overwhelming thought, so he explains: “I opted to walk slowly. At some subconscious level I didn’t want to miss anything.” At the spot, with the focus of a little over a billion worldwide viewers on him, he hopes for divine intervention. “I then lifted my eyes to the heavens and asked for help. Because if God exists, there’s no way he’s French.”
God was Italian that day. And after the penalties ended, Pirlo was an Italian God.
He dazzles with his punchlines and is enthralling in each of the 20 chapters, especially when describing his team-mates. Whether or not Italian football appeals to you, his descriptions of Filippo Inzaghi’s toilet habits and Gennaro Gattuso’s leopard-print pyjamas are a must-read. As is his take on those rabid ultras (Italy’s football hooligans) who send hate-mails and death threats to players. During the 2006 World Cup, his young room-mate, Daniele De Rossi, received plenty such wrath after being red-carded in the first match. “Classless scribblers,” writes Pirlo. “Judging by the spelling and grammar mistakes that cropped up in between the insults, they lacked intellect as well as dignity.”
Pirlo knows, of course. He not only thinks when he plays, but before he works that pen as well.